E Magazine

Is the Environment to Blame for the Rise in Autism Cases?

Autism cases are on the rise. Or so the most recent data would have us believe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 1 in 100 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) -- up from 1 in 150 in 2007. A study in the journal Pediatrics in October 2009 revealed similar numbers -- parents of 1 in 90 children reported that their child had ASD. With boys, the rate of ASD was 1 in 58. Without a doubt, autism is the country's fastest-growing developmental disability, affecting more children than cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. Still, in dealing with a childhood disorder that ranges from "highly functioning" to uncommunicative, and such a long list of potential triggers and treatments, even the numbers themselves are subject to questioning.

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Why the End May Be Coming for Coal

Patrick O'Hara, who works next door to a coal-burning power plant in Chicago, was recently diagnosed with asthmatic bronchitis brought on, he believes, by breathing in pollution from the plant. So, when he heard about a mass protest to demand action on global warming, O'Hara boarded a train for Washington, D.C., and joined thousands of people who marched around the coal-burning power plant that supplies energy to the U.S. Capitol.

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How an Entire Town Leveled By a Tornado Is Rebuilding Green

On May 4, 2007, an EF5 tornado cut a 1.7-mile path of destruction through Greensburg, Kansas. Winds reaching speeds of 205 miles per hour uprooted trees, demolished homes and leveled the town. Eleven people died and 95% of the buildings were destroyed beyond repair.

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Is Trying to Eat Healthy Making You Sick?

In a country where 34% of the population is obese, where 2,500 people die every day of heart disease and more than half a million perish of cancer each year, cultivating an unhealthy focus on healthy eating seems impossible. Yet some are so fixated on purifying their bodies that they make themselves sick in the process. It's a condition known as orthorexia nervosa.

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Selling Tap Water in New York to Help Provide Clean Water in Developing Countries

Challenged to create a brand out of "nothing" by Esquire magazine, David Droga of New York ad agency Droga5 envisioned the Tap Project. The concept was simple, but the scope huge: charge New York City diners a dollar for their glasses of tap water during one week in March (dubbed "World Water Week") and give that money to UNICEF to help provide access to clean drinking water around the world. Ads for the Tap Project, launched in 2007 with 300 New York restaurants, showed tap water as a prestige beverage in designer bottles. After all, one billion people around the world do not have access to the "luxury" of clean drinking water. "All of us take for granted the ability to get clean water through the tap," says Kim Pucci, marketing director for U.S. Funds for UNICEF. Asked about bottled water companies' claims that cast doubt on the safety of tap water, Pucci says, "We're staying out of the debate."

The Tap Project, which raised $100,000 its first year, expanded to more than a dozen cities this year and 2,300 restaurants.

The Project has a hip aura, with videos on YouTube, and celebrity endorsements from actors like Sarah Jessica Parker and Lucy Liu. It's UNICEF's most successful initiative to date, even surpassing the charitable response to the Southeast Asian tsunami.

Just $1 can supply 10.5 gallons of safe drinking water to one child (enough for 40 days worth of water for cooking, bathing and cleaning). The project's continued expansion--it aims to go worldwide next year--will help UNICEF reach its goal of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015.

And other advertisers are challenging consumer ambivalence toward water, particularly in bottled form. Last year, Eric Yaverbaum of PR firm Ericho Communications and Mark DiMassimo of DiMassimoGoldstein (or DIGO) founded Tappening, a project pushing consumers to switch from bottled water to reusable bottles filled with tap water. They're selling their own refillables with messages like "Think global. Drink local."

Ski Resorts Are Reinventing Themselves in the Face of Global Warming

Marshall Heaven of Greenwich, Connecticut got tired of waiting for the snow to fall, so he bought two Backyard Blizzard snowmakers and can now promise 15-foot drifts as early as late November .... Even though it's late January in Mason Township, Maine, Steve Crone of New England Dogsledding tethers his eager canines to a golf cart. "We'd rather have snow," he says with some embarrassment ... Fifteen-year-old Cameron Sonley of Peterborough, Ontario, where the winter was two degrees warmer than usual in the 2006-2007 season, complained last March that because of high temperatures he was only able to go snowboarding four or five times, instead of his usual dozen .... In Staten Island, New York, skaters have been thwarted for three straight years as pond ice failed to thicken ... Janisse Ray, an outdoor recreation enthusiast in Danville, Vermont, got so frustrated when the West River hadn't frozen by last January that she donned a wetsuit and floated downstream in an inner tube, holding aloft a sign that said "Where's winter?"

Where indeed? Since 1970, average winter temperatures in New England have increased 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit. In the U.S., 2006 was the warmest year on record, and 1998 is number two. The last eight five-year periods were the warmest since we began taking national records 112 years ago. During the past 25 to 30 years, says the National Climatic Data Center, the warming trend has accelerated, from just over a tenth of one degree Fahrenheit per decade to almost a third of a degree.

By the end of the century, temperatures in the Northeastern states are likely to rise by eight to 12 degrees Fahrenheit (at which time snow-covered days will have been reduced to half of what we traditionally experience). A 2007 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists on the Northeast predicted that, under some higher-emission scenarios, "Only western Maine is projected to retain a reliable ski season by the end of the century, and only northern New Hampshire would support a snowmobiling season longer than two months." Warmer weather and changing precipitation will result in a fundamental change to winter recreation and what the report called "the winter landscape."

Our Changing Climate

When Nat "King" Cole sang about "Jack Frost nipping at your nose" and "folks dressed up like Eskimos" in 1946, a white Christmas was standard fare in many parts of America. But with today's milder winters, Jack Frost is not such a regular visitor and hats and gloves are spending more time in the closet.

The Hood Museum at Dartmouth College recently mounted a major exhibit of Inuit clothing, tools and art -- materials adapted to one of the coldest places on Earth. But the once-stable climate there is changing. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment said in 2004 that Arctic temperatures are now rising at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the world (as much as 14 degrees Fahrenheit on average over the next 100 years), reducing sea ice and melting frozen soils. It's been widely reported that Alaska's polar bears are probably doomed by 2050, but the scale of this climatic shift will likely do much more -- completely changing the culture of the Arctic region.

Though there are still a few diehards, the overwhelming majority of scientists now believe that climate change is at least partly responsible for our steadily rising thermometers. Obviously, global warming science is complex and hardly monolithic -- some parts of the world continue to experience very cold temperatures and record snowfalls, just as the climate models say they will. You might even be reading this as a blizzard fulfills the promise of a white winter. But the overwhelming trend is clear: it's getting warmer, and winter is losing force, intensity and duration, changing America's ingrained habits in the process. If you've ever enjoyed ice skating, sledding, skiing, snowboarding or building a snowman, you should know that the future of these enshrined institutions is by no means guaranteed.

In the film Lucky Numbers, John Travolta plays a local weatherman who has it all, including a lucrative snowmobile franchise. Unfortunately, the winter season fails to deliver any snow, so the dealership goes bankrupt. That was fiction, but the Boston Globe recently reported on the real-life closing of Kingdom Cat, a dealership in northerly Island Pond, the "snowmobile capital of Vermont." After several years of little snow and 30 machines left in inventory, owner Bob Halpin decided to call it a day. "The winters have gotten progressively worse," he said. "We decided to cut our losses."

The closing of a northern Vermont snowmobile dealership is hardly an isolated incident. In 2006, major snowmobile manufacturer Polaris had 40 percent lower sales than in 2005. In the U.S., sales for the fiscal year ending last March 31 were down 12 percent from the previous year, reports the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) in Michigan. Total sales of 79,814 in 2006 contrasted sharply with the 170,325 sold in 1997.

"If it doesn't snow, people don't downhill ski, they don't cross-country ski and, guess what, they don't snowmobile either," says Ed Klem executive director of ISMA. Snowmaking isn't an option when the typical Upper Peninsula, Michigan snowmobiler covers 100 miles of trail in a day. "The lack of snow is the highest barrier to entry [into snowmobiling] because consumers don't want to spend $6,000 on a sled unless they're going to use it," Klem says. Many snowmobile manufacturers are saved by the fact that they also make all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), whose sales are steady.

Klem adds that snowmobile sales are, however, up two percent in still-frigid Canada, and have enjoyed double-digit growth for six years in Russia, where the sport is new, disposable income is abundant, and snow still covers the slopes.

Skiing Into Trouble

According to the Concord Monitor in a rather poetic editorial, last winter the New Hampshire woods were filled with "rain instead of snow, open water instead of frozen lakes, the chatter of red squirrels scolding and rustle of dry leaves replaced the icy 'pop' of freezing tree sap." The paper continued, "While black bears continued to rattle birdfeeders and geese and ducks were reported flying north over open water on some rivers, we all knew winter wouldn't remain a no-show so much as a late arrival."

Among the effects, the Monitor said, are native trees damaged and amphibians killed by early thaw-and-freeze cycles. "There may be reason for new concern if current trends for extreme winter temperature fluctuations continue," the paper said.

These changes are not without major effects on the state's economy. Cliff Brown, an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, notes that the state had 65 downhill ski areas in the 1970s, but only 20 remain. New Hampshire winters warmed 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the 20th century, and snowmaking alone hasn't saved the day, especially for the low-lying family facilities. The surviving resorts, Brown says, are larger, tend to be corporate owned, and are located at higher elevations.

To stay in business, the resorts have also diversified from skiing. "They've been very successful at adapting to changing climate patterns, which means year-round activities," Brown says. "That's why you get the water parks, conference centers and condos. There are only so many good skiing days now. The resorts get 30 percent of their skiing revenue from just 10 percent of available days."

On a recent fall day, the lower slopes at Bromley Mountain in southern Vermont looked more like an amusement park than a ski area. It's now known as "Vermont's sun and fun park," with a "Thrill Zone" (alpine slide, miniature golf, climbing wall, bumper boats and an adrenaline-pumping zipline) helping generate revenues well into September.

To lure people in, they host bluegrass concerts, magic shows and even ventriloquists. Like most state ski resorts, Bromley has had to reinvent itself as a summer destination, and the strategy is working. Skiing attendance (which peaked in the mid-80s) is now at 120,000 annually, but an additional 55,000 to 70,000 come for fair weather fun.

"The last couple of years have not been good for skiing," says spokesman Peter Dee. "We usually try to be open by Thanksgiving, but now we're looking at the eighth or ninth of December." Snow guns can cover 85 percent of the mountain, but if temperatures stay above freezing even that option is not available.

Dee adds that snowmaking was once an "insurance policy" for ski areas, but now it's a necessity. At Bromley and other Vermont destinations, the snowmaking starts in late October and continues until late March. But snowmaking has limitations, because if skiers don't see snow in their backyards, they're likely to just stay at home. "If there's no snow in Westchester, New York, the perception is that there's also no snow in Vermont," Dee says. It's not surprising, then, that ski area websites devote so much space to reports from the slopes and offer detailed weather reports.

The Northwestern glaciers once described as "America's Alps" have lost 30 percent of their size in the last century. All of the North Cascades glaciers are receding. "As diehard skiers and snowboarders, we think winter is already too short," said Sustainable Summits, a group of lodge owners in a recent appeal to Congress to do something about global warming.

Analysts are worried about the fate of ski resorts at lower elevations, which stand to experience considerably less snow than their counterparts in, say, the Colorado mountains. Since it was announced in 2000, 184 ski areas around the country (collectively a $5 billion annual business) adopted the Environmental Charter to raise policymaker awareness of the "dependence of winter sports on natural ecosystems," to call for greenhouse gas reductions, and to support science-based solutions to climate change.

The ski areas acted on dire projections, including one for the Rocky Mountain West that showed up to 70 percent snowpack loss by 2050. In 2005, there was already a 78 percent drop in skier visits to the region. By 2085, a 2006 Colorado College report says, the county could lose 82 percent of its snowpack.

At Aspen Skiing Company, operators say temperatures have gone up so much that their snowmaking machines are operating at the limit -- another degree or two warmer and they'd be unable to produce it at all. "We often make snow within one degree, or one and a half degrees, of being able to," said former CEO Patrick O'Donnell. "If we can't make snow, we have a problem."

A study done by Aspen's town government, part of the Canary Initiative, predicted that Aspen's climate will eventually mirror that of Amarillo, Texas. In the short run, higher-elevation resorts such as those in the Rockies may experience greater snowfall, but longer droughts could cancel any positive effects.

To counter warming winters, Aspen has inaugurated environmental reforms -- using biodiesel fuel in its snow cats, running Coke machine compressors on motion detectors, using local ponds as thermal exchangers in place of air conditioning, contributing to the Aspen Valley Land Trust to preserve open space. In 2007, the company spent half its national advertising budget on a global warming call to action. The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has launched a "Keep Winter Cool" campaign. "Stop Global Warming or the Snowman Gets It" is the catchy slogan.

Other resorts are taking similar measures. Last August, Jiminy Peak Resort in Massachusetts installed a 386-foot-tall, 1.5-megawatt wind turbine, becoming the first ski resort to make its own electricity. Tim and Diane Mueller, owners of Okemo Mountain in Vermont, Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire and Crested Butte Mountain in Colorado, are purchasing enough renewable wind energy credits through Sterling Planet to offset the annual electric use of all three of their resorts. And those electric bills are going up sharply, because snowmaking is so energy-intensive. It uses a lot of water, too, so resorts are now building their own reservoirs to avoid depleting naturally existing streams and lakes.

In Europe, vulnerable ski runs on Swiss and Austrian glaciers are being wrapped with $70,000-a-sheet strips of white fleece the size of football fields, and some ski areas are being "repurposed" as mountain biking destinations. The European Environmental Agency (EEA) and the UN have both reported that the Alps are the mountains most severely affected by global warming.

The EEA says that 75 percent of the Swiss Alps' glaciers will be gone by 2050. Turin, Italy hosted the Winter Olympics in 1996, but the ongoing loss of snow cover makes it an open question if it will ever host another. The Turin Olympic Organizing Committee launched its own climate initiatives which have continued after the games, but there are serious challenges.

The growing popularity of snowboarding has brought a whole new generation onto the slopes, and in some ways their presence is making up for the skiing reversals. But snowboarding is hurting, too. The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia had to close its snowboarding park last year because it couldn't make enough snow for both the slopes and the park. The ski runs were the first priority, and some nights it just didn't get cold enough (40 degrees Fahrenheit or below) to make snow.

When it fails to snow, it's not just ski resorts that suffer. Bob McKnight is chairman and CEO of Quiksilver, which makes sports-related clothes and equipment (including skis and snowboards, through its 2005 purchase of the French Rossignol brand).

"There's no question that our near-term progress has been dramatically affected by a very tough winter for the snow business," he said in a conference call last March. "I think that anyone in the snow industry can tell you that this was, both here in the U.S. and, to a larger extent, in Europe, the worst season in the past several decades. The lack of snow kept many resorts closed and greatly reduced the number of skier days, undercutting the consumer's drive to purchase new equipment." Worldwide, McKnight said, there has been a five to 15 percent decline in snowboard sales, a 10 to 20 percent decline in alpine skis and a 20 to 30 percent decline in cross-country skis.

Given all this, it's not surprising that environmentally themed mountain sportswear company Patagonia is making changes. "We're getting into the surf market because it's never going to snow again, and the waves are going to get bigger and bigger," says Yvon Chouinard, the company's owner. The first Patagonia watersports shop, selling Earth-friendly surfboards and (non-petroleum) wetsuits, opened in California last year. The Sap's not Flowing

Northern New England's climate was once ideal for maple sugaring, but as temperatures rise the industry is inexorably migrating north. Over the past four decades, the traditional mid-February to April maple sugaring season has slowly gotten shorter. According to a University of Vermont study, it now starts a week early and ends 10 days early, with a net loss of three production days. And tappers are getting worried. Tom McCrumm of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association is just one long-time tapper who worries that, by 2100, there may no longer be a maple sugar industry in New England.

Maple sugaring depends on a delicately balanced freeze-thaw cycle. For sap to form, tappers say, trees have to absorb water from the soil on cold nights when temperatures dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. When it warms up during the day, the sap flows and can be caught by sugar tappers who bore holes in the trees. When the cold nights fail to materialize the trees begin to form buds, and the sap turns bitter and unusable for syrup.

Last January, Massachusetts experienced 70-degree days, which sent trees into an early bud cycle and resulted in half the syrup yield. Things are likely to get much worse in northern New England, with a six to 10-degree Fahrenheit rise predicted over the next century.

Canada's maple syrup production has tripled since the 1970s. The University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center says that the U.S. produced 80 percent of the world's maple syrup up through the 1940s, but now produces only 15 percent. Today, Canada, not Vermont, is the world leader, with 85 percent of the world's syrup (7.4 million gallons in 2006).

There are factors other than climate involved; Canada heavily subsidizes its maple sugar industry, for instance. According to Tim Perkins of the Proctor Center, Canadian tappers can get very low-cost leases to produce maple syrup on government-owned land in Quebec, an option not readily available in the U.S. Canadians have also benefited from more moderate snowfalls, which makes it easier to get to the trees to harvest sap.

The shorter tapping season has not yet impacted U.S. production, which is holding at 400,000 to 500,000 gallons a year. Perkins says that more efficient production methods -- particularly tubing-based systems replacing the more labor-intensive buckets -- has allowed Vermont producers to hold their own against what would otherwise be a climate-related loss.

Richard Lockerby, who grew up on a farm near Grafton, Vermont and now lives in Chester, has been making maple syrup his whole life. Since he got serious about it in 1990 he's won a wall full of prizes, including the "World's Best Maple Syrup" award in 1995. In a good year, Lockerby produces 325 gallons of syrup, but 2006 was not a good year and he made only 120 gallons. The freeze-thaw balance needed for making syrup was off, first because temperatures were too warm and then too cold. "By the time the snow was starting to melt, it was already very late for sugaring," he says.

In 2007, Vermont went through a very long summer, which helped ski areas bring in seasonal tourists but may augur another slow year for syrup. "The dryness affects the maple trees, because if they don't take moisture in they can't let it out later as sap," Lockerby says.

Jim Ameden's family has been making maple syrup in Vermont for so long that nobody can remember when the business began. Today, he operates a spacious and well-appointed sugarhouse in Londonderry, Vermont with his wife, Josie. Although the Amedens, who double as organic hay farmers, managed a respectable 300-gallon production year in 2006, their long-term outlook is decidedly gloomy thanks to global warming predictions.

Jim Ameden says he's experiencing the shorter -- and earlier -- season in his own business. "It used to be the middle of March to the end of April, but for the past six to eight years we've gotten started in February and ended before April," he says. "Losing two or three days may not sound significant, but it is when there are only 15 or 16 days for us to do our boiling."

Even more ominously, Jim Ameden says he's noticed the gradual dieback of indigenous maple trees, and the appearance in their place of oak saplings, a onetime rarity in his corner of Vermont. "The maples are moving further north, so I think Canada will end up making even more of the syrup," he says.

Josie Ameden enjoys the family enterprise, but she's concluded it's probably on borrowed time. "I think maple syrup making will be gone in Vermont," she says. "Sugaring will become a thing of the past." The family's emerging environmental convictions led them to buy a Toyota Prius hybrid car.

The changing climate calls into question the viability of the entire industry. "As we lessen the number of freeze-thaw cycles, and shorten the production period, we're going to have increasing difficulty in keeping yields up enough to sustain a commercial industry," Perkins says. And he adds that the syrup economy is bigger than the tappers themselves: Syrup-making equipment is also made in Vermont, and the industry provides a great deal of seasonal employment, as well as encouraging tourism.

The long-term picture is not encouraging, even for Canada. Jay Malcolm, a University of Toronto climate change expert, says that Canada's maple sugar boom may not last because sugar maple trees could move northward too quickly. Maple sugar production, he told a UN conference on global warming, could be "significantly reduced" in Canada as a result over the next 35 to 40 years. And even as conditions are briefly ideal for maple sugar, they will start to become untenable for key species such as Atlantic salmon, soft-shelled clams, deep-sea scallops and blue mussels.


The warming changes already visible are, to cite a particularly apt cliché, "the tip of the iceberg." In the next few decades, global warming will be shaped by many different factors, with relatively unpredictable results. But the scientific consensus is near-unanimous that the loss of predictable and comforting winter patterns will be a major consequence. Nostalgia for snowy winters past and "the way it was" (see companion story) will be a major growth industry, even as skiing, skating, snowmen-building and maple syrup-making gradually recede in our collective memory.

Can Green Jobs Save the American Middle Class?

The American middle class -- of which some 80 percent of Americans claim to be a part -- is getting anxious. While there is no carved-in-stone edict about what it means to be middle class, it's the term that Americans hang their dreams on.

It suggests earning enough to get by without struggling; being able to afford health care, college costs and the occasional trip to Disney World. The middle-class ideal is tied to earning power, and it's there that confidence is eroding. Over the last five years, while most workers' incomes have increased slowly or not at all, costs have reached record levels. Housing costs are up 23 percent, college costs up 44 percent and health insurance costs up 71 percent.

And while the traditional economic outlook is bleak, the green economy is taking shape, bringing with it the promise of well-paying manufacturing jobs; of management and sales opportunities with huge growth potential and lots of niche positions for enterprising students and job seekers looking for alternative careers. On the upper tiers of the economic ladder, many CEOs and CFOs are already jumping into green jobs, and online green job directories are heavy with listings for those with established business experience.

What remains to be seen is if the career ladders appearing in every sector, from green building to organic farming, solar installation and sustainable marketing, are available to all or to a select few. With the momentum behind environmental issues, Congress, spurred by advocacy organizations such as the Apollo Alliance and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, is responding with legislation that could ensure a place for America's disadvantaged and disenfranchised in the new green economy. For that to happen, the House version of the new energy legislation -- spearheaded by Hilda Solis (D-CA) and John Tierney (D-MA) -- has to make it through Congress and past President George W. Bush's threatened veto.

The Green Jobs Act, which passed the House as part of the Energy Bill last August with a vote of 241 to 172, contains specific language about using the green economy as a "pathway out of poverty." Of the $125 million that would be set aside for job training in renewable energy, energy-efficient vehicles and green building, $25 million of that would be earmarked specifically for those most difficult to hire: at-risk youths, former inmates and welfare recipients. The Energy Savings Act of 2007 sponsored by Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Hilary Clinton (D-NY) in the Senate allows for $100 million in training for "green-collar jobs," but is not geared specifically toward low-income Americans.

That, says Van Jones, president of the Ella Baker Center, is a critical difference. "There's this whole invisible infrastructure trying to get people who need jobs connected with work," says Jones. "There are vocational training centers, return-from-prison work centers, community colleges. But none of that infrastructure is pointed at the green economy. There are a lot of 'certificate factories' pointed at the pollution-based economy, and lots of people going to night school for jobs that aren't there any more."

The Green Jobs Act is a way of "repurposing our job training," says Jones. He testified before Congress in favor of the bill -- a national version of the Green Jobs Corps his organization established in Oakland, California -- and says the shortage of skilled workers throughout the renewable energy sector is already leading eco-entrepreneurs to hire their college buddies. But there's a larger issue at stake. Unless the green economy is designed to include America's urban youth, they are bound to be overlooked, shuffled back into the same low-wage, go-nowhere retail and fast food jobs with little opportunity for improvement.

"The work of saving the polar bears and poor kids is the same work," says Jones. "If we give the jobs to the people who most need them, we solve two problems."

Many say that $100 to $125 million is miniscule money for such a major economic transition. But the government's initial investment is only meant to be a launch pad, says Kevin Doyle, president of green consulting and training company Green Economy. "The federal government serves best as an innovative leader," he says. "Money from the private sector should be at least five times that much."

Companies taking the risk of implementing new, sustainable technologies won't be eager to bear the cost of training unskilled workers. And that incentive is needed, especially in the educational system, to create a workforce that's ready for the new economy. Until sustainable practices move from testing phase to the norm, as they have in green building, companies need a reason to make the switch. "All economic activity has to be financed," says Doyle. "There are no jobs without money." At the same time, he notes, "We are reaching the tipping point where cost incentives no longer have to come from some strange amalgam of tax incentives. Green is tipping into the mainstream."

Green on Top

The green economy has already opened doors for those in the upper echelon of the business world, the managers, directors, CEOs and CFOs.

"CEOs and senior-level people across a broad spectrum are entering the environmental field in droves," says Rona Fried, founder and president of SustainableBusiness.com which includes a "Green Dream Jobs" online directory. "They're saying 'I'm the CEO of an IT company and I want to put my skills to work for the environment. How do I make that transition?'"

As corporations build environmental strategy into their policy, partnering with nonprofits and responding more quickly to rising public concern for environmental issues, they need strong communicators. "Many companies have environmental managers that are now being upgraded in terms of status," says Dan Esty, director of the Center for Business and Environment at Yale University, and co-author of Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value and Build Competitive Advantage. "To be a successful environmental manager, you need good analytic skills, to understand the environment in a business context -- as a core business strategy."

That's the advice Esty gives his Yale students: if they want to improve the environment, they should find ways to help companies tackle the issues that are important to them -- be it safe drinking water, less urban pollution or protecting the rainforest.

And the growing partnerships between corporations and environmental activist groups have created jobs on both sides of the aisle. Greenpeace and Coca-Cola are now collaborating on hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)- and chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)-free refrigeration equipment. Other high-profile partnerships include Chiquita and the Rainforest Alliance, which vastly improved that company's labor and environmental practices in Latin America; and McDonald's with (among others) Environmental Defense which led to the fast-food chain eliminating those wasteful Styrofoam containers. "There are many more jobs today focused at managing the business-environmental interface," says Esty.

The 300 largest corporations are in the initial stages of crafting a new social frontier, writes author Bruce Piasecki in World Inc. "Enlightened self-interest is what fuels the global equity culture, from the search for fuel cells and biofuels to new ways to package and new ways to power our economy, transportation and computing infrastructure," writes Piasecki, president and founder of consulting firm the American Hazard Control Group. "Business first seeks to sustain and further itself, but this revolution has the side benefit of being good for us all."

While green jobs are often touted as a way to create a solid American workforce, it's the installation and maintenance jobs in solar and wind that can't be outsourced. "The technology, where a big part of the upper money is...it's not at all clear the U.S. will win that game," says Doyle. "Right now there are a lot of technology companies in Spain, Japan and Switzerland."

Turning Blue Collars Green

But those in-country manufacturing jobs are not to be taken lightly. They represent a huge possibility for a new "green-collar" economy to restore a rapidly disintegrating American middle class. The 10 Midwestern states, ideally suited for wind energy development, could see nearly 37,000 new jobs by 2020, according to the Environmental Law and Policy Center, if the nation's renewable energy portfolio were set to 22 percent. According to a University of California at Berkeley study in 2004 (and updated in 2006), "Putting Renewables to Work: How Many Jobs Can the Clean Energy Industry Generate?" the renewable industry consistently produced more jobs per megawatt of electricity generated in construction, manufacturing, installation, operations and management and fuel processing than the fossil fuel industries. With a 20 percent national renewable energy standard that included 55 percent wind energy, that would equal 188,018 new jobs by 2020.

Kate Gordon, program director for the Apollo Alliance, a nonprofit working for American energy independence, says, "There's been a wholesale loss of manufacturing jobs, which are union-protected, highly skilled jobs. But with wind turbines, solar panels, energy-efficient retrofits -- there's a whole world of green jobs. It's pretty exciting if you can harness it."

Both recent college graduates and professionals looking to redirect their careers need to find ways to plug into this new green economy. As those pathways from conventional to green are still being laid, that's not always easy. But Doyle, who offers consulting and training for the new green economy, says there are two key strategies. One is to look at what skills are needed by all industries to solve environmental problems. All need information management and financing.

"So much starts with gathering huge amounts of data," Doyle says. This includes jobs in information technology, geography and statistics. And whether a nonprofit, a government agency or a business is looking to purchase open space, or evaluating smart growth versus sprawl, people are always needed to find funds. This opens up jobs like sector analysts, green accountants, government finance officers and foundation managers, among others.

The second strategy for green job seekers is to "pick a niche without any sense of ideological blinders," he says. Someone wanting to "fix" climate change would investigate the major sources of carbon emissions -- power plants, automobiles, gas flares -- and focus on finding solutions within these polluting industries.

People on the forefront of this rising green economy see enormous green growth potential within once-suspect corporate entities, from Wal-Mart to Starbucks. "At one point, five to 10 years ago, it was unusual to have an employee involved in corporate social responsibility," says Ted Ning, conference director of LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) and executive editor of the LOHAS Journal. "Now corporate social responsibility is a whole department for large corporations like Office Depot or Trader Joe's." Looking at the big picture, from corporate scandals to Hurricane Katrina to rising gas prices to the conservative ideology of the current administration, Ning says it's "a perfect storm -- people are fed up with what's typically given to them."

Of course, as savvy marketers have realized, the conscious consumer behind many of the fastest-growing green businesses, from eco-travel to organic food to hybrid cars and Fair Trade coffee, are as seduced by the comfort and social status of these items as by their reduced carbon footprint. "People don't have to sacrifice their lifestyle anymore," says Ning. "They don't have to wear burlap or eat sand."

Pharmaceuticals in Our Water Supply Are Causing Bizarre Mutations to Wildlife

From inter-sex fish in the Potomac River to frog mutations in Wisconsin, federal officials are spending this summer studying the effects of pharmaceuticals such as pain killers and depression medicine on the environment, because the drugs have turned up in America's drinking water.

The cumulative effect of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and personal-care products in the water on humans isn't yet known, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking preventative measures. Pharmaceuticals have already been linked to behavioral and sexual mutations in fish, amphibians and birds, according to EPA studies.

Better sensors have revealed that trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, including narcotics, birth control, antidepressants and other controlled substances, are in the drinking water and in U.S. rivers, lakes and streams. The growing public debate on pharmaceuticals in water will heat up this summer as experts on both sideas of the issue try to convince the public that it's either much ado about nothing or another example of humans ignoring early warning signs such as deformed frogs -- the amphibian considered the canary in the coal mine when it comes to water issues.

The EPA suspects that part of the problem is consumers flushing old and unwanted drugs down toilets or drains. Americans are taking more drugs than ever -- especially the aging baby boomer generation. Pharmaceuticals were found in 80 percent of the samples taken during a U.S. Geological Survey and EPA study of 139 streams in 30 states. Many of America's wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals and personal care products, the EPA says.

A 1999 (EPA and German) study of pharmaceutical and other personal-care products concluded the "undetectable effects on aquatic organisms are particularly worrisome because effects could accumulate so slowly that major change goes undetected until the cumulative level of these effects finally cascades to irreversible change -- change that would otherwise be attributed to natural adaptation or ecologic succession."

Meanwhile, federal officials continue to study the human health effects of the pharmaceutical compounds found in water known as endocrine disruptors, including possible links to neurological problems in children and increased incidence of some cancers. Federal officials are investigating a wide range of fish health problems in Cheasapeake Bay and its watershed. Several studies of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers have revealed inter-sex fish, a wide range of "abnormalities in which both male and female characteristics are present within the same fish."

The abnormalities include nine male smallmouth bass from the Potomac River near Sharpsburg, Maryland (about 60 miles upstream from Washington) that developed female eggs inside their sex organs. Inter-sex bass were also found in a study three years earlier, after fish kills about 170 miles upstream in the South Branch of the Potomac in Hardy County, West Virginia.

The suspected causes include "previously banned compounds…such as DDT and chlordane, natural and anthropogenic hormones, herbicides, fungicides, industrial chemicals and an emerging group of compounds that may act as endocrine disruptors," according to a 2006 summary of the various studies prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey. Other studies have linked endocrine disruptors to possible cancer in humans.

A recent survey of "cancer in Hardy County, where some residents get drinking water from the South Branch, found rates of cancer of the liver, gallbladder, ovaries and uterus that were higher than the state average," according to the Washington Post.

Officials are investigating whether there is a link between the increased cancer rates, river water and altered fish including the possible connection to wastewater discharges containing trace pharmaceuticals. This is disconcerting to residents of metro Washington, D.C., because the Potomac River is the main source (75 percent) of drinking water for 3.6 million residents, including the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Regulatory issues won't be tackled for years to come, but the EPA isn't waiting for more study results before taking action. The EPA is educating the public and funding pharmaceutical programs by concerned groups and state and local government agencies.

In the short term, numerous grassroots and government pharmaceutical collection projects have sprung up worldwide from police stations to pharmacies to church parking lots.

One of the larger efforts was held in April in northern Michigan. A coalition called the Earth Keepers opened 19 free drop-off sites over a 400-square-mile area, geographically the largest one-day pharmaceutical collection in U.S. history. Funded by the EPA, Thrivent Financial and others, the faith-based collection involved 400 volunteers from more than 140 churches and temples, university students, an American Indian tribe and two nonprofit environmental groups.

The nonprofit Superior Water-shed Partnership arranged the technical side of the collection including law enforcement officers and pharmacists at all collection sites because of strictly enforced federal laws governing controlled substances with po-tential for abuse like narcotic pain medicine.

"The Earth Keeper network is one of the most effective tools for addressing Great Lakes pollution," said Carl Lind-quist, director of the Superior Watershed Partnership. "The pharmaceutical collection was a proactive approach to a serious environmental issue that is just getting national attention."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Pharmacists Association recently launched "SMARxT DisPOSAL," a public education project about pharmaceuticals and fish that includes a traveling awareness show, brochures and a website for consumers and health professionals. The campaign will visit select U.S. cities this fall and be expanded in 2008.

Studies show that pharmaceuticals in the environment break down fairly quickly but get replenished at an alarming rate because of increased American drug use. America's huge healthcare network is addressing the problem of improperly disposed pharmaceuticals by education and "green chemistry" -- encouraging drug companies to develop medications that break down more quickly.

Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) held a pharmaceutical waste management summit in May for its members including 1,600 hospitals that run 4,000 clinics and long-term care facilities. Hazardous chemical incinerators are used by many hospitals to dispose of unused pharmaceuticals. Industry experts say these incinerators have scrubbers and are closely monitored, yet incineration of medical waste "is highly problematic" and other solutions are needed.

"Incinerators are not the solution, but we knew we had to get pharmaceuticals out of sewers because waste water treatment plants are not capturing it," says Laura Brannen, H2E executive director. Green chemistry and a careful reduction in the amount of pharmaceuticals used by hospitals are among the "lifecycle approach" to solutions that Brannen supports.

Hazardous chemical waste management is heavily regulated, but pharmaceutical cleanup hasn't kept pace, according to H2E. "The current EPA regulations were designed to handle 55 gallon drums of chemicals out of industries," Brannen says. "The EPA needs to reassess their regulations ... they [haven't] updated the list of hazardous chemicals in pharmaceuticals in over 20 years. We must address the source -- using less and making what we do use as environmentally preferable as possible. If we are only dealing with the pharmaceutical waste at the back door we are going to be buried."

In communities without pharmaceutical collection programs, the EPA is also concerned about diversion -- unused drugs being stolen out of trash cans. They recommend crushing pills or capsules and mixing the drugs with cat litter or coffee grounds. The recreational use of prescription medicines is now the second worst drug problem facing American teenagers, according to the White House Office of National Dug Control Policy.

The White House says 6.4 million Americans admit abusing prescription drugs and most say they got the pharmaceuticals from friends or relatives. Pharmaceutical collections are one of several tools being used to reduce the problem by 15 percent over three years.

"While EPA continues to research the effects of pharmaceuticals in water sources, one thing is clear: improper drug disposal is a prescription for environmental and societal concern," says EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "Following these new guidelines will protect our nation's waterways and keep pharmaceuticals out of the hands of potential abusers."

Editors: If you are interested in reprinting this article, please contact Featurewell at: featurewell@gmail.com/212-924-2283.

Is Fear About Climate Change Causing a Nuclear Renaissance?

Sitting in the belly of the beast -- Dominion's 2,000-megawatt Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford, Connecticut -- the company's chief nuclear officer, Dave Christian, seems an unlikely environmentalist. But he says concern about climate change is what got him involved in the peaceful pursuit of the atom in the first place.

"I started studying climate science in the 1970s after reading a book [published in 1974] entitled Technology, Society and Man by Richard C. Dorf," Christian says. "It was a very thoughtful study of the feedback mechanisms that go into global warming."

Dominion is the kind of big power player that has long had an antagonistic relationship with the environmental movement. In addition to Millstone Units 2 and 3 (Unit 1 was shut down in 1998), the $45 billion company operates two nukes in Virginia, owns 7,900 miles of interstate natural gas pipelines, 6,000 miles of electrical transmission lines and 965 billion cubic feet of underground natural gas storage.

The case for Dominion as a friend of the Earth is based on a few simple facts: It generates 45 percent of Connecticut's electricity and 30 percent of Virginia's without taking a huge toll in smokestack-emitted global warming gas.

In fact, there are no smokestacks, because (aside from the occasional release of radioactive material) the only thing nuclear power plants vent is steam. What's more, in contrast to the modest current capacity of wind and solar power, nukes can produce very large amounts of electricity -- enough to counter global warming by taking highly polluting coal-burning plants offline even as electricity demand increases.

Nuclear advocates will be the first to tell you that their U.S. plants avoid the emission of almost 700 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Worldwide, it's two billion metric tons. Given this reality, some prominent environmentalists have signaled a cautious détente with the nuclear power industry.

While stopping short of endorsing the Bush Administration's push for hundreds of new nukes in the U.S., they say that nuclear power merits reconsideration. But they're being met by equally powerful arguments from the scientific community that nuclear power has never been and never will be a solution to global warming.

The Big Push

As worldwide emissions soar, people wait for a white knight. Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson wrote recently, "We Americans want it all: endless and secure energy supplies; low prices; no pollution; less global warming; no new power plants (or oil and gas drilling, either) near people or pristine places. This is a wonderful wish list, whose only shortcoming is the minor inconvenience of massive inconsistency."

Growing awareness of this inconsistency makes it difficult to dismiss the technology out of hand.

Nuclear power has already won some powerful allies in the environmental community. Fred Krupp of Environmental Defense says, "We should all keep an open mind about nuclear power." Jared Diamond, best-selling author of Collapse, says, "To deal with our energy problems we need everything available to us, including nuclear power," which should be "done carefully, like they do in France, where there have been no accidents."

To which Stewart Brand, another apostate green who founded The Whole Earth Catalog and Whole Earth Review, adds, "The only technology ready to fill the gap and stop the carbon dioxide loading of the atmosphere is nuclear power." James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia theory about the planet's self-regulating systems, has called for, to quote The Independent, "a massive and immediate expansion of nuclear power." Actor Paul Newman visited New York's Indian Point plant and praised its climate role. In many cases, these environmentalists see nuclear as only a temporary fix.

There's no questioning the credentials of these environmental leaders, but other nuclear cheerleaders are suspect. For instance, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore has been widely quoted supporting nukes, but he left Greenpeace many years ago, turned 180 degrees, and has supported many anti-environmental initiatives. He is now the co-chair (with former Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Christine Todd Whitman) of an industry-funded initiative called the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. Not all the newspapers and magazines printing his commentaries have noted that he's on the payroll.

The industry is moving ahead with its attempt to revive commercial nuclear power, but it's unlikely to happen quickly. Dave Christian of Dominion says that although 30 new nuclear power plant licenses are pending, the first of these probably won't be online until 2015 or 2016. "The success of the industry moving forward depends on how these first units work out," he says.

Christian acknowledges that the chance of some of those license applications succeeding is only five percent. "They're taking a leap of faith," he says. It may be that the funding issue alone derails the nuclear push: A Standard and Poor's report last year priced nuclear at $1,500 per kilowatt -- twice the cost of a new coal plant. And cost overruns, it said, "are highly probable." The base price for a plant is $3 billion today.

Most of the proposed new nuclear stations are in the Southeast, and (partly to minimize local antagonism) most are on the site of existing units.

Targeting the South

Entergy Nuclear operates New York's Indian Point as well as nine other stations. At a recent press conference, Steve Melancon of Entergy stood in front of a PowerPoint map of the U.S. dotted with proposed new plants: in New York, North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Virginia.

According to Melancon, Entergy, in conjunction with eight other utilities, has settled on two existing locations to apply for combined construction and operating licenses: Grand Gulf, near Port Gibson, Mississippi and Bellefonte, near Scottsboro, Alabama. Actual operations would not begin until at least 2014.

It's not surprising that Port Gibson (spared by Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War because it was "too beautiful to burn") is 80 percent African-American, rural and something less than affluent, with a third of the population living below the poverty line. And it's also not surprising that some city residents welcome the revenue it brings to an otherwise impoverished community.

Moft Headley II, who is both a former Port Gibson county supervisor and the father of a current one, says that the Grand Gulf nuclear plant has been a "good neighbor" that has "made it possible for the county to do some positive things it otherwise couldn't have done," including fixing up a building on Main Street and constructing a new library. "We're hoping we get the new plant," says Headley, "because the few industries we had around here have all dried up. We don't worry about safety too much because we've never had any plant accidents."

Jared Diamond, best-selling author of Collapse, says, "To deal with our energy problems we need everything available to us, including nuclear power," There's no constant in nuclear plant sitings. Scottsboro, Alabama, site of the famous 1931 "Scottsboro Boys" case is today an almost exclusively white community with a median family income of $42,000.

It has never tasted revenues from nuclear power, and local officials seem primed by the prospects of 400 permanent jobs and 2,000 construction positions. "Many of us grew up watching that plant get built, so we're excited about finally seeing it operate," Goodrich Rogers, president of the Jackson County Economic Development Authority, told Greenwire.

The Cost of Nukes

There are 103 operating nuclear reactors in 31 states, capable of producing 100 gigawatts, or some 20 percent of U.S. power needs. Dominion's Christian says many of these plants are aging, and if we let them retire after 60 years, they'd have to be replaced with an annual input of 3.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas or 200 million tons of coal. Replacing nukes is also an issue for the activists who want to shut down the two reactors at the Indian Point nuclear power station in New York. Of similar size to Millstone, Indian Point generates 2,000 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power two million homes.

Calling for a shutdown, increasingly vocal Westchester County residents hired a consultant to prepare a feasibility study, and Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) commissioned a National Academy of Sciences report on the subject, which was released last year. It concluded that replacing Indian Point was feasible, in part by "repowering" existing coal or fuel-oil plants to run on cleaner fuels such as natural gas. But it could cost $3 billion, says Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano.

Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore has been widely quoted supporting nukes, but he left Greenpeace many years ago, turned 180 degrees, and has supported many anti-environmental initiatives. Meanwhile, Indian Point has hardly been making a good case for its continued existence. After a transformer fire early last spring forced it to shut down for the second time in a week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) downgraded its safety assessment.

Is nuclear power cheap? The industry likes to cite a figure of 1.72 cents per kilowatt-hour, cheaper than climate-aggravating coal. But Michael Levi, a fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, calls this "a specious claim" because it "ignores the capital costs." Including these expenses, an influential Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) report entitled "The Future of Nuclear Power" prices nuclear at 6.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, markedly more expensive than coal at 4.2 cents.

The MIT report, released in 2003, says that nuclear power "is not now cost competitive with coal and natural gas," but it concludes that nukes "could be one option for reducing carbon emissions." However, the industry's "stagnation and decline" makes that unlikely.

Taking the Scare Out

To get the public to accept a major expansion of nuclear power, the industry will have to convince Americans terrified by the specter of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and intentional terrorism-related sabotage. Don Miley, a pro-nuclear spokesman for the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), stood on a hotel patio in downtown Idaho City and, before an audience of horrified reporters, knowingly exposed himself to radiation. Miley was exposing himself to Coleman lantern mantles, "Fiesta" dinnerware, and an old "Exit" sign -- all made with radioactive materials.

It was cheap theatrics, but each item set off a Geiger counter. On average, Miley said, Americans receive 360 millirems of naturally occurring radiation per year, just from the sun, rocks and soil. If you're an airline pilot, it goes up to about 1,000 millirems. A smoker gets 1,300 with or without a frequent flyer card. In 14 years working at INL, close to a nuclear reactor, Miley says he's been dosed with only 13 millirems of extra radiation. In one trip to the dentist, he adds, he took in 150 millirems.

Hours later, the delegation was taken inside INL's Advanced Test Reactor, the largest of its kind in the world, and looked down into 20 feet of cool, rippling water, below which lay highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods that could kill in an instant. When Miley was asked if he'd take a swim in this deceptively attractive cooling pond, he offered to don his trunks.

Back in Connecticut, Dominion spokesman Pete Hyde stopped at a padlock-protected fence and pointed across to an unassuming concrete bunker. This was the site of Millstone's dry-cask nuclear storage, what the company calls an "interim measure" until long-delayed federal storage options are available.

The steel-reinforced bunker has five-foot-thick walls. Some 32 highly radioactive spent fuel rods are loaded into a 40-ton steel canister and stored horizontally in the bunker. As many as 135 of these canisters can be stored on site, so Millstone is not likely to run out of storage space soon.

The obvious question, however, is whether these on-site storage facilities are vulnerable to determined terrorist attacks. Hyde says computer simulations show no breach of the fuel (and only an inch of movement in the concrete) when an engine from a commercial airliner hits the bunker at 600 miles per hour.

That may sound reassuring, but a federal National Academies of Science report released in 2005 argued that a high-temperature fire caused by the loss of cooling water in a spent fuel pool could release large amounts of radiation. The report found that dry cask storage of the type found at Millstone is safer, in part because the fuel rods are stored separately.

Meanwhile, plans to relocate America's nuclear plant waste to a secure federal site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada are slowly inching forward. The facility is designed to house 77,000 tons of nuclear waste, including the 50,000 tons already waiting for storage at reactor sites in dozens of states. The project director, Edward Sproat, said that a 2017 start date is now unlikely, and that the waste facility may never be built without increased Congressional funding.

The current plan is to transport the waste to Yucca Mountain, stored in reinforced casks, by truck and rail through 43 states. The watchdog group Public Citizen says this plan would put the waste "within half a mile of 50 million people." And it adds that "more waste would be shipped in the first year alone than has been shipped in the U.S. in the past three decades."

These facts led an increasingly skeptical Atlanta Constitution to write, "[W]orldwide, it would take some 2,000 new nuclear power plants, at a cost of over $1 trillion, to make a dent in greenhouse gas emissions. Those plants would require a new Yucca Mountain-sized repository every few years to store the tidal wave of highly radioactive nuclear waste. With no answer to its radioactive nuclear waste, it is clear that nuclear energy will not be the answer to global warming."

Federal Incentives

The renaissance of nuclear power benefits from significant federal incentives. Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 called for the construction of 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants, many of them nukes, and since then the Bush administration has done what it can to stimulate new construction and licensing.

The administration's energy legislation, enacted in 2005, contains billions of federal dollars for nuclear tax breaks and loan guarantees. A Public Citizen analysis says these incentives add up to $10.1 billion, including $5.7 billion in production tax credits ($18 per megawatt-hour of new generation, up to 6,000 megawatts). The loan guarantees mean that the public could subsidize as much as 80 percent of new reactor costs, the group said.

"There is a tsunami of new nuclear plant applications," says Dr. Harold McFarlane, president of the American Nuclear Society. The revival is coming after so many years of inactivity that McFarlane notes there are now fewer than 200 nuclear-qualified welders in the U.S.

Still, the industry is forging ahead, aided by an administration determined to streamline the licensing process. Hoping to avoid the debacle, common in the nuclear-phobic 1970s, of fully built plants unable to begin operations, the industry is now seeking to receive both construction and operating permits before it puts the first spade in the ground.

The Mixed Picture

Around the world, the nuclear picture is mixed. Six U.S. reactors have closed since 1996, and seven in Canada are unlikely to operate again. Although a large 10,000-megawatt plant is slated to begin construction in India next year, other countries -- including Germany and Sweden -- have been working on formal phase-outs of the technology. But even there the future is uncertain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the phase-out of the country's 17 plants (which produce a third of German electricity) by 2020 "disastrous," and some are worried that replacing the nukes with coal or natural gas plants could make it difficult to meet the provisions of the Kyoto Treaty.

The Netherlands, Belgium and Spain have agreed not to build any more plants. (Switzerland, by contrast, failed to renew its nuclear ban in a 2003 referendum.) Nuclear programs in Eastern Europe, South Korea and Japan have slowed pace, but in other countries the technology is going strong. France has 59 reactors generating more than three quarters of the country's power. Pakistan, Egypt, Finland and Iran each hope to build nuclear power plants, and China plans to increase nuclear capacity.

Nuclear power supplied about 17 percent of the world's needs in 2002. According to researchers at MIT, global energy demand could grow by 75 percent by 2020. Anti-nuclear activists are deeply worried that public apathy in the 18 years since the devastating Chernobyl meltdown will allow the emergence of a dangerous and radioactive new world.

An Unacceptable Risk?

In spite of its obvious benefits, nuclear power may simply be too risky. Opponents of the nuclear renaissance point to a host of serious concerns. "They're proposing a replay of a demonstrated failure," says Paul Gunter, director of the reactor watchdog project at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS). "The financial risks have only gotten worse, and our concerns about safety issues are heightened now that these plants are known terrorist targets."

Alex Matthiessen, director of Hudson Riverkeeper, declares, "In the post-9/11 era, nuclear power plants pose an unacceptable risk." He points out that NRC studies conclude that a serious accident at one of Indian Point's two working reactors could cause 50,000 early fatalities.

Al Qaeda operatives have, by their own admission, considered attacking nuclear facilities. And according to Riverkeeper, only 19 percent of Indian Point guards think they can protect the facility from a conventional assault, let alone a suicidal mission.

Riverkeeper says that the proposed evacuation plans for the area are woefully inadequate, and the site is vulnerable to an airborne attack. Plant operator Entergy refutes these charges, and says that the 3.5-foot steel-reinforced concrete containment structures protecting the reactor and other radioactive materials are "among the strongest structures built by man."

The U.S. nuclear industry has avoided serious accidents since the near-catastrophic accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island plant in 1979. But there have been near-misses. In March 2002, workers repairing a cracked nozzle at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio discovered a football-sized cavity in the reactor. Because of corrosion, all that was holding back the 2,400-pounds per square inch (psi) pressure of the core was a bulging stainless steel liner approximately 3/16th of an inch thick. If the liner had failed, a loss-of-coolant accident similar to Three Mile Island would have occurred.

Millstone also had its share of troubles before Dominion bought it in 2001. In the mid-1990s, the four nuclear power plants run by then-owner Northeast Utilities were cited for more than 100 safety violations in two years. In late 2000, Millstone reported two lost fuel rods. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says, "The [NRC] must stop allowing plant owners to conduct fewer inspections and to defer inspections for economic reasons."

More recently, in July of 2006, the Forsmark nuclear reactor 1 on Sweden's east coast experienced a short circuit and went into emergency shutdown. Two of four emergency-cooling diesel engines did not start as expected, disabling control room operations -- and thus human control -- for a critical 23 minutes. According to the German magazine Der Spiegel, "For critics, the incident shows yet again how vulnerable nuclear power plants are to a failure in electricity systems."

In early April of this year, operators of the Vogtle Nuclear Plant near Augusta, Georgia received low marks for their response to a simulated nuclear accident. The NRC judged that the emergency director had "overdiagnosed" the problem (a pump shaft breakage that caused metal parts to fall into the reactor coolant system) and gave the plant a "poor" grade.

Nuclear defenders point out that these are the problems of aging Generation II plants, and the new Generation IV units will have many safety and efficiency advantages. Pebble bed reactors, for instance, are now in the planning stages in China and South Africa, and supporters say a meltdown is nearly impossible with that design. Pebble beds simplify waste storage and can be built quickly, they say, without the crippling cost overruns.

Economists question if the technology is cost-effective. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has stated that even if next-generation nuclear plants can be built efficiently, their costs are likely to be two to four times greater than building natural gas, coal or wind plants.

Both the Congressional Budget Office and the private firm Standard and Poor's concluded that investing in loans to build nuclear power plants is an unwise risk. A host of insurance analysts have come to the same conclusion. The last American nuclear power plant to go online, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar, fired up in 1996 after 23 years of construction and billions of dollars of over-budget spending.

A Renaissance under Fire

In its 2003 study, "The Future of Nuclear Power," MIT researchers concluded that some 1,000 to 1,500 new reactors would have to be built worldwide by 2025 in order to put a serious dent in global warming. There are only 400 atomic power plants online now, and any major expansion would meet a host of economic, political, security and NIMBY ("not-in-my-backyard") challenges.

Because of planned plant retirements, the industry will have to work hard simply to keep up current nuclear capacity, let alone ramp it up to offset global warming. Current projections by the U.S. Energy Information Industry show very little nuclear growth by 2030.

The uranium supply is also an issue. On the spot market, uranium prices have soared as existing reactors have worked through supplies from mothballed plants. Demand is projected to exceed supply and push prices higher. The shortfall in uranium mining can be at least partly made up in uranium enrichment (an outgrowth of atomic bomb development), but capacity is limited there, too.

Uranium enrichment also aggravates both global warming and ozone depletion. The single remaining uranium enrichment plant in the U.S., Paducah Gaseous Diffusion in Kentucky, emits highly destructive chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), used to dissipate heat generated by the compressors. And the plant is fired by two large, extremely dirty coal power plants.

Although nukes avoid the smokestack problem, the nuclear process is not emission-free. The cycle from uranium mining to milling and processing, as well as waste storage and transportation, all involve greenhouse gas emissions.

In his book Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change (IEER Press), Brice Smith admits that, when compared to fossil fuels, nuclear power emits far lower levels of greenhouse gases, even when mining, enrichment and fuel fabrication are taken into account.

But to effectively challenge the global warming problem, he says, a new reactor would have to come online somewhere in the world every 15 days on average between 2010 and 2050. Even with this growth, he calculates that the proportion of electricity coming from nuclear sources would grow only slightly, from 16 to 20 percent over the period.

Also, says Smith, a huge nuclear expansion would increase the dangers of nuclear proliferation. The world's capacity to enrich uranium would have to go up dramatically by a factor of 2.5 to six. A dozen new enrichment plants would produce thousands of tons of highly deadly plutonium each year. And just one percent of that capacity would be enough to support the construction of 210 nuclear weapons per year.

NIRS argues that, in the next 60 years, the industry is capable of building only half the 1,500 new reactors needed to significantly offset global warming, and that the enormous construction costs -- estimated in the many trillions of dollars -- would be much more effectively spent on renewable energy projects.

"Even under an ambitious deployment scenario, new plants could not make a substantial contribution to reducing U.S. global warming emissions for at least two decades," says the Union of Concerned Scientists.

How Much of Your Food is Being Nuked Before it Hits the Shelf?

India alone grows 1,000 varieties of mangoes in such delectable variations as the sweet, orange-skinned Alphonso, the Bombay Green and the Bangalora. Here in the U.S., we rarely see more than one lonely variety at the local supermarket, but that's all about to change. Soon consumers will be able to sample the sweet and tart nectars of many more imported fruits and vegetables from Thailand, India and Mexico piled high in the produce section. But there's a catch: this fruit will arrive irradiated.

Shoppers may not be the wiser. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules in place since 1986 have required the radura -- a symbol for irradiation that resembles a flower in a broken circle -- on placards in front of produce displays or on packaged food like ground beef, along with the statement: "treated with radiation" or "treated by irradiation."

But last April, the FDA proposed a revision to those rules. Food which had undergone irradiation, but not "material change," would no longer have to bear the radura logo and companies could replace the word "irradiation" with the more consumer-friendly "pasteurized" or something else innocuous. Public comment on the current proposed change closes in early July.

Industry insiders argue that irradiation is a necessary answer to food-borne illness such as last year's E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak in California-grown spinach, which left three dead and sickened 200 others. It was the 20th such outbreak in lettuce or spinach since 1995. "I look at it from a unique perspective," says Dennis Olson, the director of the irradiation program at Iowa State University.

"All of our bagged spinach and lettuce and fresh-cut produce goes through a metal detector. How common is it to find metal? It almost never happens. How often does E. coli 0157:H7 happen? Almost never. [But] if that produce had been irradiated there would have been none."

A commitment to public health is certainly in the best interests of consumer and industry, but a burgeoning worldwide market plays an equally important role in the sudden interest in irradiation. One third of commercial spices in the U.S. are already subject to irradiation -- treatment by gamma rays or electron beams to kill pathogens -- as are some 15 to 18 million pounds of ground beef, according to Ron Eustice, executive director of the Minnesota Beef Council.

In 2000, the FDA reported that 97 million pounds of food products were irradiated annually. But, excluding spices, these products are only available in limited quantity: the occasional hospital meal or the odd chicken breast in a Florida supermarket. Irradiation in the world of fresh produce is still something new, and it's opening the door to American imports of litchi (a red fruit similar to a grape) and longan (a round fruit resembling an eyeball when shelled) from Thailand as well as new mangoes from India.

"I was just in India," says Eustice, "and there are close to 20 irradiation facilities going up [across Asia] in the next 12 months. That may be a conservative estimate." In March of 2006, when President Bush was in India cementing a civilian nuclear agreement, he found time to promote the import of Indian mangoes. Both decisions are likely hinged on the rocketing Indian economy, the fastest-growing in the world according to Goldman Sachs. And irradiation is the strange mistress in the middle.

At a press conference in New Delhi, Bush spoke out in favor of lifting the 17-year ban on mango imports from India, imposed because of heavy pesticide concerns. "The U.S. is looking forward to eating Indian mangoes," he said. It's also looking forward to exporting its own beans, like lentils and chickpeas, to India, as part of the trade agreement.

The market for more exotic foods is exploding, in part because America is home to such a large number of immigrants and because consumers, influenced by their travels and cultural experiences, are demanding more variety.

But traditional bananas and pineapples will cross the borders, too, thanks to irradiation. It's cheaper for American companies to import produce, says Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. In Latin America where an increasing amount of the American food supply is grown, "you can use pesticides that are illegal in the U.S. and there are [fewer] environmental standards," Hauter says. "The food industry's plan is moving to the global south."

Irradiation would help that plan along immensely, by delaying ripening in fruits like bananas and avocados and inhibiting sprouting in root vegetables, such as onions and potatoes. Irradiation prevents mushroom caps from opening, and even delicate fruits like strawberries benefit from radioactive zapping, according to information offered by the Food Irradiation Processing Alliance.

Because the process "reduces spoilage bacteria and molds ... irradiated strawberries can last a week in the refrigerator without developing mold." Companies could also use cheaper, slower means of transportation to get their perishable items to grocery stores.

And the FDA says there is no reason why irradiated foods shouldn't become the norm. The process is allowed in nearly 40 countries and is endorsed by the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association.

But even with all the support, the process hasn't penetrated the U.S. market, despite industry claims that consumers are indifferent to its use. "Numerous university studies show that support for irradiated foods can reach as high as 85 to 90 percent when accurate information is provided," says the Minnesota Beef Council.

Nuking It

Just three years ago, irradiation looked like a losing proposition. San Diego-based food irradiation provider Surebeam had declared bankruptcy, closing four plants nationwide and making it difficult for companies like Omaha Steaks who wanted ground beef irradiated to find a local provider. Dennis Olson was then SureBeam's vice president for food technology, and blamed unnecessary expansion and high overhead on the company's demise.

Today, the majority of the 45 U.S. irradiation facilities sterilize medical products, not food, says Richard Hunter, CEO and president of Food Technology Service (FTS), an irradiation facility in Mulberry, Florida. His company does both. The boxed beef patties or Band-Aids are loaded onto carriers and they pass through a field of radiation whose maximum dose (in the case of food) is set by the FDA. "A truckload of frozen beef patties may take 30 minutes" to irradiate, Hunter says.

Hunter claims it's an environmentally responsible process. Nuclear power plants use cobalt-59 as an adjustor or control rod, which is converted to radioactive cobalt-60 during the nuclear reaction process. This cobalt-60, contained in pellets, is then placed in rods for the irradiation facility, grouped with hundreds of other rods surrounded by six-foot-thick concrete walls. Cobalt-60 is also used in Gamma Knife surgery to remove brain tumors.

"That's a usable byproduct instead of waste," says Hunter. He adds that new pellets are spaced with old ones within the long, thin, stainless steel rods, so that they are "isolated from the environment for 50 years." By the time the cobalt-60 pellets are replaced, he says, "They are virtually not radioactive."

Vocal Opposition

But Food & Water Watch, the most vocal group against widespread irradiation and the FDA proposal to soften labeling rules, sees no environmental silver lining. The group points out that irradiation experts and spokespeople often move back and forth between government and the industry trough.

Hunter, for example, resigned as deputy health officer of the Florida Department of Health for his six-figure job as president of FTS. But he was advocating for the process long before he made the switch, the group notes. "In 1998," says a Food & Water Watch report, "he went so far as to write a letter to Florida residents promoting food irradiation, a letter that Food Technology Service since began using in its marketing material."

Opponents say the meat industry wants to use irradiation as a quick fix to poor sanitation in 200-birds-per-minute slaughterhouse lines and that the technology is being pushed through without proper testing.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says, "Irradiation is a high-tech end-of-the-line solution to contamination problems that can and should be addressed earlier. Consumers prefer to have no filth on meat than to have filth sterilized by irradiation."

Such groups as the Organic Trade Association (OTA) are alarmed by greater potential irradiation allowances, too. Since the late 1990s, OTA has opposed federal efforts to increase irradiation, especially on certified organic foods. "Food irradiation is a synthetic pro-cess that has never been allowed in organic production," says OTA. "The long-term effects of irradiation are still un-known, and irradiation is not a panacea to food safety concerns."

Iowa State's Olson says all safety research was completed by the 1980s and "while there is still some continuing work, nothing [negative] has been shown on a consistent basis." In fact, astronauts have been eating irradiated food since the 1970s, increasing its respectability.

But the reason they eat it has more to do with zero gravity than nutrition. The irradiation process removes the fluid from meat so it can be heated and eaten without mess while astronauts circle the planet. But what may be appropriate foodstuff for a traveler on an infrequent voyage to the moon raises far more serious concerns for the majority of the population facing unidentified irradiated foods in all segments of the supermarket.

"It doesn't bode well for the kind of food we want to eat," Hauter says. "To use a euphem-ism like 'pasteurized' is not the equivalent of millions of chest X-rays passing through [the plant] cells and breaking those bonds. The truth is, we don't know the long-term health effects of a mostly irradiated diet."

The food supply already undergoes a lot of unsettling-sounding processes in the quest for consumer safety, says Hunter, and none of those processes are labeled. "Poison gas is used on fruits and vegetables to kill insect larvae," he says, "and organic acid rinses. Irradiation is obviously a scary word, but, for me, it's a badge of honor."

The Battle to Ban Toxic Toys

"Phthalates" (pronounced THA-lates) are found in everything from cosmetics to IV bags to children's toys. Environmentalists and environmentally minded legislators are beginning to worry about long-term exposure to the chemical compounds.

Specifically, they worry about diisononyl phthalate or DINP, a plasticizer commonly used in soft vinyl products made for babies, such as bath books, rubber ducks and teething rings as well as bisphenol A (BPA), a building block for polycarbonate plastic used in shatter-resistant baby bottles.

Studies have linked BPA to hormone disruption in rats, to increased breast cancer and prostate cancer cell growth, to early onset puberty and obesity; studies with phthalates have linked the chemicals to rodent cancers and genital abnormalities, especially in males.

Legislators have yet to revisit the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, and the EPA has banned just five chemicals since its passing. But this year, with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) heading the Environment and Public Works Committee, a revised act, known as the Kid-Safe Chemical Act, may have a chance. First introduced by Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Jim Jeffords (I-VT) in 2005, the bill would require manufacturers to list health and safety information and require the EPA to determine the safety of 300 chemicals within the next five years. By 2020, "all chemicals distributed in commerce would need to meet the safety standard."

The city of San Francisco would have been the first U.S. jurisdiction to ban phthalates and BPA from children's toys and feeding products under the "Stop Toxic Toys" law beginning January 1, but two lawsuits, one state and one federal, both backed by chemical and toy manufacturers, stalled the initiative.

Since the lawsuits, from a coalition including the California Retailers Association, the California Grocers Association and the American Chemistry Council went into effect, the city's departments of environment and public health introduced amendments that would repeal the ban on BPA.

They also gave themselves another two years to revise the list of phthalate-containing products to ban. In 2006, the Maryland legislature failed to pass similar legislation prohibiting phthalates and BPA in children's toys.

Debbie Raphael, toxics reduction and green buildings program manager for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, told Plastics News: "When we saw the ordinance, we were dismayed and confused as to how it could be implemented."

Environment California, a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization had sponsored earlier legislation that would have imposed a statewide restriction on the manufacture, sale or distribution of phthalate- and BPA-containing products for kids under three, and is pressuring the state to revisit a more inclusive ban on toxic toys. "The state will take up the issue again sometime this year," says spokesperson Rachel Gibson.

Requiring the labeling of products could be a first step, but Gibson says it's not enough. "Short of a big explanatory message [saying] 'this is linked to cancer,'" she says, "it doesn't give consumers any information."

Until more stringent regulations are passed, consumers can use the recycling codes on plastic products to determine content. If it's marked #7, it's polycarbonate plastic and contains BPA; if it's marked #3, it's PVC plastic and contains potentially harmful phthalates.

"According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, these products are tested and deemed safe for use," says Tiffany Harrington, director of public affairs at the American Chemistry Council (ACC). ACC calls the ban on BPA "both legally flawed and scientifically unsound" because it is at odds with Food and Drug Administration rulings and hurts California's economy.

Studies of DINP-containing toys in 1998 found that, on average, most babies and toddlers would not mouth the toys long enough (75 minutes or more) to present a health risk. But according to the author of the study, Dr. Michael Greene, "the two eight-month-old children averaged 78.3 minutes [mouthing the toys]" and there was a "maximum duration of 141.2 minutes provided by one of the ... subjects."

The European Parliament considers phthalates dangerous enough to ban them from children's products. The European Union has ordered the removal of the phthalates DEHP, DBP and BBP from children's products and banned DINP, DIDP and DNOP from anything that children might mouth. "They're banning some phthalates from children's toys that were never used in toys," says Harrington.

But Environment California and other groups see the EU ban as evidence that alternatives to these plasticizers exist and must be explored in the U.S. "Many places in the world have to comply with restrictions on phthalates," Gibson says. "It's a mystery why we sell toxic toys to American kids."

The Ecology of Genocide

Stony hills give way to patches of desert, golden grassy meadows and parched fields of sorghum and millet in the North Darfur region of Sudan. Villages of circular huts made of mud and straw are spread thin across the vast, empty countryside, spaced to allow residents to maintain their delicate balance with the scarce resources of their environment. Many of the villages look like tiny moonscapes of above-ground craters, with only the circular mud brick walls of their huts left standing. Inside, the huts are charred, their straw roofs turned to ash, while spent bullets and foot-long mortar shells lie strewn across the village.

Ripples of calamity from Darfur are reverberating across the border into Chad. With more than 200,000 refugees living in camps there and 90,000 East Chadians now displaced by increased violence, mass displacement has wreaked havoc on the already fragile ecosystem.

"The environmental impact from the influx of refugees [to Chad] has been pretty devastating," says UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Chad Mathew Conway. With severely limited public services, the livelihoods of people in East Chad and Darfur revolve around the collection and consumption of three natural resources: water for drinking and farming, firewood for cooking and grass for grazing livestock. Conway says all of these have been dwindling rapidly in East Chad since Darfuris were forced to move to refugee camps there. "The already fragile environment has been pushed well beyond its carrying capacity," he says.

Areas around several of Chad's northern camps have hardly enough water to support both refugees and the local population. "Receiving 200,000 people has had a significant impact on the ability of the water tables to come back up to their regular level," says Jessica Hyba, assistant country director of CARE, an international nonprofit group working on environmental issues in Chad.

Chad's largest and northernmost camp, Ouri Cassoni, is an expanse of dusty tents and mud shacks that houses almost 30,000 Darfuri refugees, and is surrounded by nothing but sand and scant shrubbery. UNHCR's environmental officer in Chad, Daniel Roger, says the area originally supported no more than 5,000 inhabitants. He says the area's water and firewood simply cannot support both the refugees and the local population much longer. Excessive deforestation has forced refugees to travel 18 miles in search of dead wood.

A major cause of the rapid environmental deterioration, says Roger, has been the abnormally large concentration of people into very small areas, creating a heavy strain on people's resource base and exacerbating tensions. "[Chadians] have the impression that they are being invaded by these people who came from Sudan," he says. "These refugees also have basic needs to satisfy. They are consuming much more than nature is producing and it has created an imbalance."

Most of the tensions between refugees and local Chadians have fallen on women, says Hyba. "Wood and water collection is normally assigned to women. They have to travel quite a far distance, leading to incidences of sexual- or gender-based violence."

In Treguine, another of East Chad's 12 camps, a refugee and 20-year-old mother of two whose name has been withheld for her protection, says she and other women are too afraid to collect wood anymore. "I was beaten by a group of men while I was searching for wood," she says, downcast eyes searching the sand floor of her shack. "There were three of them and they had a gun. Then after they beat me, they raped me."

The appointed leader of Treguine camp, Ishaq Haron, speaks with poise and self-assurance when describing atrocities in Darfur, but when he talks about the refugees' current situation, his voice cracks. "In Sudan, the Janjaweed [Arab militias] would attack women, beat them, and rape them, and here we deal with the same thing."

Liz Lucas, spokesperson for the international relief agency Oxfam, which works on water sanitation in Chad and Darfur, says both Darfur and East Chad face the same environmental challenges. A recent report coauthored by Oxfam says climate change impacts Africa more than many other regions of the world because of widespread poverty, disease and people's daily dependence on natural resources. "Climate change is where it begins," Lucas says. In Darfur, increasingly drier climates and desertification have forced the mostly Arab nomadic pastoralists to graze their livestock on the agricultural lands and pastures of the mostly black non-nomadic populations, leading to repeated conflicts over the past 30 years.

But Lucas says there is more to the current crisis. "The Darfur conflict is not happening because of resource scarcity, but it intensifies [the problems in] the already troubled region." According to refugees, when armed rebel groups rose up in Darfur demanding that the Sudanese government end the political and economic marginalization of their people, President Omar Al-Bashir exploited the pre-existing resource conflicts by arming, financing, and training Arab tribes to target civilian populations. "The drier and the worse it gets there," says Lucas, "the more these already marginalized groups will have to fight for their livelihoods."

CARE's Hyba says in East Chad it is only a matter of time before resource competition between locals and refugees erupts into inter-communal conflict. "In a couple of years, if the refugees are still here, I would imagine that a lot of the peace-building activities would probably be around deadwood collection," she says.

The border between Sudan and Chad is becoming increasingly undefined as the Darfur crisis pulls Chad further into its fold, according to UNHCR's Conway. "In certain areas, Darfur has arrived in Chad," he says.

In Darfur, bombs have been dropped on huts and rape used as a weapon. Some 200,000 to 400,000 have been killed and more than 2.5 million have fled and still hope for immediate return. In the end, the solution to the looming environmental crisis in Chad and Darfur is the same one that will stop the genocide. The Sudanese government has to agree to a just peace that will allow people to safely return home and spread once again across the delicate landscape.

Editors: If you are interested in reprinting this article, please contact Featurewell at: featurewell@gmail.com/212-924-2283.

Debunking the Green Building Myth

It's home-show time in Portland, Oregon, and people are lining up to gawk at the "Oregon Dream," one of eight show homes in a yearly promotion organized by local builders. They shuffle on tile floors, agape at distant ceilings. Women linger by a convoluted tub with innumerable tempting jets; men look wistfully at a gas grill as massive and shiny as a firetruck.

Every home in the show is on the market, and "green" features are getting the hard sell. Native plants show up in the landscaping, scruffy beside freshly unrolled turf. An environmental non-profit, the Energy Trust of Oregon, is a major sponsor of the show. And the Oregon Dream is "Energy Star for Homes" certified -- meaning it uses 15 percent less energy than a standard "code" house of similar size. There's just one fly in the ointment: the size is gigantic. At 4,624 square feet, the house is like a hybrid SUV: efficient only in comparison to other behemoths. Despite the Energy Star label, the house has two full-size water heaters.

It's a perfect demonstration of the battle between two major trends in American housing. In the past few decades, houses have gotten greener, but they've gotten bigger too, leaving lingering questions: Is super-sized housing defeating conservation efforts? Can McMansions truly be green?

Houses are a major place to look for environmental gains. Besides consuming materials like lumber, the residential sector uses 21 percent of the nations energy, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA reports indicate that over the past 20 or 30 years, energy-saving measures like efficient windows and refrigerators have become commonplace.

Meanwhile, homes have steadily grown from sedan- to Hummer-sized. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average new single-family home was 983 square feet in 1950, 1,500 square feet in 1970, and 2,434 square feet in 2005. This occurred even as the average household shrunk from 3.4 to 2.6 people.

The net effect is troubling. Despite widespread use of efficient technology, a new study by scientists from the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory shows that from 1985 to 2002, total residential energy consumption per capita climbed eight percent, and residential consumption for the nation -- the figure most relevant to global effects like carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions -- climbed 32 percent.

While reasons for these increases may be complex, the Berkeley report singles out house size as a key factor. A 2005 report from the EIA comes to the same conclusions, showing that households with 3,000 or more square feet use 40 percent more energy than those with 2,000 to 2,400 square feet. In that context, it's fair to wonder if a home like the Oregon Dream deserves the green halo of an environmental certification.

The Energy Star label is appropriate, suggests Bob Stull, senior program manager for the Energy Trust of Oregon's Efficient New Homes Program. He says the labels key criterion is 15 percent improvement over a similar code-built house. Size by itself is not judged. "I'm not saying it's a good thing somebody is buying a 4,600-square-foot home," he says. "But telling people what size home to buy is not what our program is about."

Size is a touchy subject in the exploding field of green building, suggests Jay Hall, lead consultant to the U.S. Green Building Councils pilot LEED for Homes program. LEED-H, as its called, is just one of dozens of American programs offering green building guidelines and certifications. Most score buildings across a broad range of environmental concerns, from indoor air quality to framing methods. But LEED-H is one of the bold few to take the subject of size head on.

Since bigger homes generally use more energy and materials, LEED-H's pilot scoring system rewards small homes and penalizes large ones. Bigger houses can accumulate credits in other areas -- for example, landscaping -- to get certified, but at some point the penalty gets too large to overcome. "We've received a huge amount of criticism for that," says Hall, "in particular from high-end custom home builders."

Fortunately not every builder thinks bigger is better. The Cottage Company, a developer in the Seattle area, is widely lauded for its "cottage communities" of finely detailed and certified-green small houses, some less than 1,000 square feet, most less than 2,000. Co-owner Linda Pruitt says her houses "live as big" as McMansions because they're better designed, with features like vaulted ceilings and abundant built-ins. "Its kind of like the design of a yacht," she says. The theme is quality of space, not quantity. Cottage Company's homes around expensive Puget Sound start at $500,000.

Decidedly cheaper are the homes of people like Kathy Dolphin and Tim Johnson. Dolphin has shared a 600-square-foot San Diego house with a husband and daughter for decades; Johnson lives in a 200-square-foot house -- with three kids half the time -- on a Missouri prairie. The two are worlds apart, but have a lot in common.

They love the challenge of living small, making every restriction into a puzzle. They proudly cheat the electric company with solar panels. And they don't like debt. Dolphin paid her mortgage off early, and Johnson built his house for the cost of parts.

Just like this year's model homes, Johnson's tiny pad features DSL and a large LCD TV. And every day he wakes up to this year's must-have feature: a bedroom coffee station, guaranteed to generate jealous oohs and aahs.

Meat Is a Global Warming Issue

There are many human activities that contribute to global warming. Among the biggest contributors are electrical generation, the use of passenger and other vehicles, over-consumption, international shipping, deforestation, smoking and militarism. (The U.S. military, for example, is the world's biggest consumer of oil and the world's biggest polluter.)

What many people do not know, however, is that the production of meat also significantly increases global warming. Cow farms produce millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane per year, the two major greenhouse gases that together account for more than 90 percent of U.S. greenhouse emissions, substantially contributing to "global scorching."

According to the United Nations Environment Program's Unit on Climate Change, "There is a strong link between human diet and methane emissions from livestock." The 2004 State of the World is more specific regarding the link between animals raised for meat and global warming: "Belching, flatulent livestock emit 16 percent of the world's annual production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas."

The July 2005 issue of Physics World states: "The animals we eat emit 21 percent of all the CO2 that can be attributed to human activity." Eating meat directly contributes to this environmentally irresponsible industry and the dire threat of global warming.

Additionally, rainforests are being cut down at an extremely rapid rate to both pasture cows and grow soybeans to feed cows. The clear-cutting of trees in the rainforest -- an incredibly bio-diverse area with 90 percent of all species on Earth -- not only creates more greenhouse gases through the process of destruction, but also reduces the amazing benefits that those trees provide. Rainforests have been called the "lungs of the Earth," because they filter our air by absorbing CO2, while emitting life-supporting oxygen.

"In a nutshell," according to the Center for International Forestry Research, "cattle ranchers are making mincemeat out of Brazil's Amazon rainforests."

Of course, the U.S. should join the other 163 countries in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. Of course, we should sharply reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and shift towards renewable sources of energy. Of course, we need to stop destroying the rainforests. Of course, we need to stop the war in Iraq and drastically reduce the U.S. military budget (presently at half of the entire world's total military spending), which would increase, not decrease, national and global security. But as we're struggling and waiting for these and other structural changes, we need to make personal changes.

Geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin from the University of Chicago concluded that changing one's eating habits from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a vegetarian diet does more to fight global warming than switching from a gas-guzzling SUV to a fuel-efficient hybrid car. Of course, you can do both. Where the environment is concerned, eating meat is like driving a huge SUV. According to Eshel, eating a vegetarian diet is like driving a mid-sized car or a reasonable sedan, and eating a vegan diet (no dairy, no eggs) is like riding a bicycle or walking. Shifting away from SUVs and SUV-style diets, to much more energy-efficient alternatives, is key to fighting the warming trend.

Global warming is already having grave effects on our planet. Vegetarians help keep the planet cool in more ways than one. Paul McCartney says, "If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That's the single most important thing you could do." Andrea Gordon, in her article "If You Recycle, Why Are You Eating Meat?" agrees: "There is a direct relationship between eating meat and the environment. Quite simply, you can't be a meat-eating environmentalist. Sorry folks."

Vegetarianism is literally about life and death -- for each of us individually and for all of us together. Eating animals simultaneously contributes to a multitude of tragedies: the animals' suffering and death; the ill-health and early death of people; the unsustainable overuse of oil, water, land, topsoil, grain, labor and other vital resources; environmental destruction, including deforestation, species extinction, mono-cropping and global warming; the legitimacy of force and violence; the mis-allocation of capital, skills, land and other assets; vast inefficiencies in the economy; tremendous waste; massive inequalities in the world; the continuation of world hunger and mass starvation; the transmission and spread of dangerous diseases; and moral failure in so-called civilized societies. Vegetarianism is an antidote to all of these unnecessary tragedies.

The editors of World Watch concluded in the July/August 2004 edition that "the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future -- deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities and the spread of disease." Lee Hall, the legal director for Friends of Animals, is more succinct: "Behind virtually every great environmental complaint there's milk and meat."

Global warming may be the most serious global social problem threatening life on Earth. We need to fight global warming on the governmental and corporate levels, and we also need to fight global warming on the everyday and personal levels. Now we need to fight global warming -- with our forks.

Grounds for Change

In the brightly colored basement of an old fraternity house in Bloomington, Indiana, an eclectic group of customers gather daily over coffee.

Proudly home to kitschy 1970s furniture and vintage wall hangings depicting Neil Armstrong, JFK and dogs playing poker, the independent coffeehouse Soma serves up lattes, mochas, macchiatos and regular cups of joe.

"In the morning, we normally have a crowd of middle-aged professionals who hang out here and get coffee before they head to work, and in the afternoon groups of punk rock kids come here on their bikes," says Abe Morris, a former manager of Soma who has recently cut back on his hours to make time for graduate school. "On weekends, a retired couple often drops by to meet with their grown-up kids, and they all have family time," he says.

The coffee offered at Soma is as diverse as its customers, and in addition to flavored varieties, includes colorful packets of certified "shade grown" (i.e., "songbird friendly"), "organic" and "Fair Trade" java.

Down the street in this college town, the Theater Café serves only organic coffee and blends at prices that guarantee farmers a living wage. Clearly, many consumers--even cash-strapped college students--are willing to pay extra for a dose of political correctness along with their morning jolt.

To most casual browsers, coffee has as much to do with songbirds as chalk does to cheese, but a growing movement centering on coffee's many political dimensions is beginning, like the caffeine in the cup, to wake up a disinterested public.

According to 2005 data from the National Coffee Association (NCA), 80 percent of Americans drink coffee occasionally, while 53 percent drink it daily. America's 236 million coffee consumers spent an estimated $19 billion on the beverage in 2004, or $80.50 per person. Coffee accounts for 91 percent of the U.S. hot drink market by volume and 76 percent by value, according to the market research firm Euromonitor International.

Although coffee isn't quite as popular in the U.S. as it was during its heyday in the 1960s, when per-capita consumption reached 3.1 cups per day, it is still ubiquitous (2004 per capita consumption was 1.64 cups per day).

Interestingly, the NCA reports that consumption jumped by four percentage points from 2004 to 2005 among consumers age 18 to 24, bringing daily consumption among this group up by 10 percentage points over the last three years. And if it seems like there's now a new coffee joint on every corner, that's not far from the truth. By 2003, the total number of retail coffee shops in the U.S. had swelled to 17‚400‚ up from 15‚400 in 2002, 8‚400 in 1997 and 1,400 in 1987.

Globally, more than 500 billion cups of coffee are made each year, making the steamy beverage a commodity second only to oil in terms of dollars traded worldwide. About 58 percent of coffee is consumed in Europe, the United States and Japan, although 25 percent is poured in the countries in which the beans are grown, according to the International Coffee Organization.

The fastest growth in consumption is occurring in the Asian and Pacific region and in Central and Eastern Europe. Although the U.S. buys the most coffee by volume, per-capita consumption is actually highest in the Nordic countries, where Finns, for example, partake of more than four cups a day on average.

Coffee is a tropical plant that is grown in some 50 countries around the world on some 30 million acres. Although a small amount of coffee has been farmed in Hawaii since the days of the islands' storied monarchy, and a fairly robust industry exists in Puerto Rico, most of the beverage hails from developing nations.

In fact, coffee is the principal commercial crop of over a dozen countries, half of which earn 25 to 50 percent of their foreign cash from its export. Unfortunately for the world's java growers, less than 10 percent of the commodity's $60 billion annual value makes its way into the hands of the farmers, reports Ontario-based Equator Coffee Roasters.

As Gregory Dicum and Nina Luttinger write in their 1999 tome The Coffee Book, "The experience of enjoying a leisurely cup of fragrant java over a Sunday morning newspaper seems to belong in a different universe from the experience of picking your ten-thousandth red coffee cherry [actually, a pair of seeds], throwing it into a heavy sack with the rest as the tropical sun beats down on your back and you wheeze with pesticide-scarred lungs. Yet, they're part of the same product."

In fact, the average consumer is scarcely aware that coffee is the root of widespread deforestation, loss of biodiversity, pollution and social ills-- or that it also has the potential to reverse these problems.

A Flavorful History
A much-told legend asserts that, more than 1,000 years ago in the Arabian Peninsula, a goat herder named Kaldi found his goats dancing joyously around a green-leafed shrub. Kaldi discovered that the plant's bright red cherries were the source of the animals' excitement, and he tried them for himself. Soon afterwards, monks at a nearby monastery began using the plant to stay awake during long nights of pious prayer. Word got around to other monasteries, and so began mankind's love affair with coffee.

The story is probably apocryphal, since botanical evidence suggests that the coffee plant (Coffea arabica) originated in the highlands of central Ethiopia. At first, the cherries were simply chewed, but eventually someone tried roasting the beans over a fire and then brewing them with boiling water. By the 1400s, Sufi Muslims began using coffee in their mystical rituals. In fact, many writers have theorized that the global coffee craze might never have caught on had it not been for Islam's prohibition of alcohol, which led Muslims to turn to something else that was both psychoactive and a social glue.

As The Economist wrote, "Coffee came to be regarded as the very antithesis of alcoholic drinks, sobering rather than intoxicating, stimulating mental activity and heightening perception rather than dulling the senses." In his 2005 book Coffee: A Dark History, Antony Wild argues that the coffee trade was an important spoke in the great wheel that was the Ottoman Empire, whose leaders went to great pains to protect their monopoly on the commodity. Coffee houses fanned out across the Middle East, and started appearing in Europe around 1650.

Wild argues that the Enlightenment might never have occurred, or at best would not have been near as luminous, had such visionaries as Isaac Newton and Voltaire (who is reputed to have swallowed 50 to 72 cups a day) not been java junkies.

In the 17th century, after some Dutch entrepreneurs smashed the Ottoman cartel by smuggling coffee seedlings out of the Middle East and onto Java (hence the colorful synonym), Europe's seafaring powers began sowing their colonies with the crop. It turned out that coffee grew very well in Haiti (controlled by the French), Brazil (Portuguese), Ceylon (British) and other parts of the tropics. The Europeans brutally mobilized legions of slaves and low-paid workers to cultivate the labor-intensive crop, which requires trimming and weeding, as well as hand picking the cherries. Even where independent farmers could work their own coffee plots, it was the colonial traders and rulers who earned the grande profits.

Shortly before the Revolutionary War, coffee started coming into fashion in the American colonies as a replacement not for alcohol but tea, which was famously taxed by the British monarchy. Perhaps it's not surprising for a nation that renamed towns and streets (as well as frankfurters) from the German during World War II, shunned many things Russian during the Cold War, and most recently politicized French fries by turning them into "Freedom Fries" that the popularity of this suddenly patriotic drink started taking off after the Boston Tea Party.

Down on the Farm
"Coffee grows best in tropical highlands," explains Chris Wille, the Costa Rica-based chief of the Rainforest Alliance's Sustainable Agriculture Program. The bushy plants are maintained at a height of six to eight feet. After the seeds are dried and hulled, they become green coffee beans. A mature coffee plant generally yields about a pound of roasted beans per year.

According to Connecticut-based roaster Coffee-Tea-Etc., "Every step in the process from climate and growing conditions, genetics of the tree, to the final brewing methods affect these natural chemicals. Each of these factors affects the distinct taste of the final brew."

Diego Llach, whose family has farmed coffee on the rugged slopes of El Salvador's volcanoes for four generations, says at first glance his farm is barely discernible from the surrounding rainforest. "We try to mimic the rainforest as much as possible," explains Llach. "We have a canopy of tall shade trees, and below that a canopy of medium shade trees, then the coffee plants, and below that wheat, which provides food for beneficial insects. This biological chain creates a balance of thriving plants and animals."

Llach says visitors to his lush farm can expect to see butterflies darting among the foliage, grasshoppers and many other insects, a family of raccoons that lives in the area and a variety of birds, from toucans to warblers.

However, many modern coffee farms are not nearly as idyllic as Llach's. About 30 years ago, riding the tide of the global Green Revolution, many coffee farmers around the world began converting from traditional ways to what's widely known as "technified" or "full-sun" production, which provides improved short-term yields of around 30 percent.

"Farmers started taking out all the vegetation and planting rows of coffee that stretch to the horizon like cornfields in Iowa," explains Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society.

Unfortunately, ecologists now realize that full-sun production has serious consequences for the environment and human health. "These are monocultures that have almost no biodiversity value whatsoever," explains Butcher, who has a Ph.D. in zoology. "The farmers go out of their way to kill all other forms of organisms in these fields, including competing plants and insects. You'll see almost nothing living there except the coffee plants."

This concerns scientists, because as Wille explains, "The mountain forests that coffee grows well in are also fragile and host some of the world's highest biodiversity."

In environmental circles, habitat loss is often cited as one of the biggest threats to the planet's wildlife, and coffee production has certainly engulfed its share. Over the centuries, the colonial powers cleared millions of acres of virgin tropical forests to make room for coffee, and millions more were degraded by erosion, damage to waterways and other secondary effects of production. "In heavily deforested Haiti, about 80 percent of the loss of tree cover came from coffee production," explains Llach. Today, an estimated one million acres of tropical forest disappear each year in Central America from human activities, as does a similar amount in Mexico, according to the activist group Global Exchange. Equator Coffee Roasters reports that technified coffee production has been the second leading cause of rainforest destruction in recent years.

Wille estimates that about half of the seven million acres of coffee now grown in northern and central Latin America has been converted to full-sun methods. According to a Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center analysis of coffee farms, 17 percent of Mexico's acreage is now monoculture, as is 40 percent of Costa Rica's and 69 percent of Colombia's. Huge fields of full-sun coffee now dominate the landscape in Vietnam, Brazil and Indonesia, and the variety makes up about 75 percent of the coffee consumed in North America, according to Equator Roasters.

Traditionally, coffee was grown the way Llach does it, in the shade of tropical trees. "Shade coffee farms are bursting with life, and if you visit one you will see orange and lime trees, bananas, and many other types of plants with the coffee," explains Guatemala-based Jeronimo Bollen, the founder and president of the farmer-support organization Manos Campesinos. The shading trees often yield fruit, avocados and wood that can help farmers feed their families and earn extra income, and the forest floor is often planted with vegetables and herbs. "We've planted 90,000 trees in the last five years, 75 percent of which are native, and many of those are in danger of extinction," says Llach.

"Now that we don't use chemicals anymore we have weeds, but they are good weeds that help us maintain soil humidity and structure," Llach adds. "Before, we used to get a plague of a certain pest because it had no biological controls, but now, each species controls itself."

The Audubon Society reports that a shade coffee farm may have more than 100 species of plants, and one study counted 793 species of insects and spiders on a single farm.

In 1980, scientists in Guatemala discovered that the forest canopy of shade-grown coffee farms could support biodiversity that approximates natural forests, in stark contrast to agribusiness-driven monocultures. Monkeys, bats, coatimundis, agoutis, wild boar, ocelots, anteaters, salamanders, vines, orchids and other epiphytes are some of the living things that frequent and flourish on shade-grown coffee farms, which some experts call "agroforests."

In recent years, however, much of the scientific community's interest has focused on the feathered denizens of the farms. "Of course, nothing beats a pristine forest in terms of habitat, but it turns out that shade-grown coffee is unusually good at supporting birds," explains Audubon's Butcher.

Bird's the Word
"In eastern Chiapas, Mexico, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center biologists found that traditionally managed coffee and cacao (chocolate) plantations support over 150 species of birds; a greater number than is found in other agricultural habitats, and exceeded only in undisturbed tropical forest," reports the center.

Studies have also shown that full-sun farms have 95 percent fewer species of birds than shade operations, and that fewer than 10 percent of the 150 species of North American songbirds that winter in Latin America can survive a season on a full-sun plantation.

It is these neotropical migrant birds that have largely inspired advocacy campaigns and captured much of the North American public's attention when it comes to thinking about the impact of the coffee they drink, because these birds are the same colorful songsters that flit through suburban yards, splash in bird baths and fill U.S. and Canadian woods with life through the warm months, eating enormous amounts of pest insects. Unlike many environmental issues, which often seem hopelessly complex, painfully slow acting or geographically remote, the birds people watch out their windows as they sip their morning French roast have a clear, direct connection to what's in their cups.

Many scientists have sounded the alarm that the populations of these migratory birds have plummeted 50 percent in the last 25 years. Numbers have declined 70 percent in the case of the Tennessee warbler, 50 percent for the Cape May warbler and 30 percent for the Baltimore oriole, for example. However, U.S. Forest Service scientist Joe Wunderle argues that many birds have probably been saved from extinction specifically because they have found suitable living space on shade-grown coffee farms.

Butcher points out the example of the golden-cheeked warbler, an endangered bird that nests only in central Texas and migrates in the winter to southern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. "The golden-cheeked warbler is just holding on," says Butcher. "There's been a lot of intensive land use in both parts of its range, including suburban development in Texas, and deforestation is a major threat to its tropical homes." Butcher believes the bird has found invaluable habitat on shade-grown coffee farms.

Another bird that benefits from the same habitat is the threatened cerulean warbler, which is thought to use shade farms as migratory stopover sites and as prime living space. Other migratory birds known to frequent traditional coffee farms include the ovenbird, wood thrush, Baltimore oriole, ruby-throated and buff-bellied hummingbirds, swallow-tailed kite, Kentucky warbler, hermit warbler, painted bunting, greater pewee, chuck-will's-widow and short-tailed hawk. Of course, year-round residents also make their homes among the bright red coffee cherries, including jays, wood creepers, hummingbirds, toucans, parrots, parakeets and other species.

"Any bird that makes use of the tree canopy can do fine in shade-grown farms, so which birds will live where is a matter of the elevations at which the birds normally live," explains Butcher. Even so, the coffee farms may not provide much suitable habitat for birds that spend most of their time in the understory. "At the extreme end, these plantations are very natural canopies, but the more thinned out they are, the less valuable they are for birds," adds Butcher. Rainforest Alliance also cautions that some higher-yield shade coffees are now being grown with only a few species of trees, making them less valuable for biodiversity.

In El Salvador, where only seven percent of the original forest cover remains, about 95 percent of the coffee crop is still tended under shade cover. According to Rainforest Alliance, this acreage forms vital corridors that link up with the country's fragmented patches of virgin forest and reserves, greatly expanding the available habitat. "The shade coffee farmers in the Sierra Madre Mountains of southwest Chiapas, Mexico also help maintain an important buffer zone around the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve," adds Julian Teixeira, communications manager for Conservation International's Center for Environmental Leadership in Business. The acclaimed reserve is home to one of the world's largest cloud forests and is a major ecotourism site.

Blister in the Sun
Another problem with sun coffee plantations is that, without the protective tree cover, the notoriously thin tropical soils are heavily exposed to the torrential rains and blinding sunlight that characterize that part of the world. Erosion and damage to the communities of microorganisms that form the vital living structure of soil is therefore a serious concern, as is worsened flooding. "With technified production, you have to replace your coffee plants every six to eight years, but with organic and shade methods you can have your plants up to 20 years. This saves farmers money and labor," says Bollen of Manos Campesinos.

Since full-sun plantations lack the natural fertilizer and pest control provided by the surrounding environment, they require heavy loads of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. While research suggests that these chemicals may be burned off the final product during the roasting process, and therefore pose little risk to consumers, they can have a huge effect on the environment and workers in host countries.

Fertilizer runoff can cause nutrient loading and damage to important waterways. Further, some of the pesticides most commonly used on coffee--organophosphates and carbamates--have been responsible for thousands of acute toxic poisonings, and have been linked to birth defects, cancer and Parkinson's disease, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). These chemicals generally kill birds on contact, adding significantly to the assaults on avian species. Pacific Northwest-based coffee roaster Grounds for Change accuses chemicals used on coffee farms of "killing lakes and streams."

Another advantage of shade-grown coffee, which should be of particular interest to coffee connoisseurs, is that the final product tends to be of higher quality. "Shade coffee is better tasting than full-sun coffee," points out Sabrina Vigilante, Rainforest Alliance's marketing manager for sustainable agriculture.

Llach says his family has grown a variety of arabica coffee known as bourbon, which cannot tolerate full sunlight, for 100 years. "Many growers have switched to smaller hybrids that produce more, but require more chemicals to grow and don't taste as good. I've done a study of the coveted cup of excellence awards, and since 2000, 42 percent of all winners are bourbon. In Brazil, although less than two percent of the coffee is bourbon, 57 percent of the winners are," he says.

In general, the two major types of coffee are robusta, which is sun-tolerant and pest-resistant and is grown on massive plantations--particularly in Indonesia, Vietnam, Brazil and India; and arabica, which is grown through much of Central America. Arabica has historically been prized for its mild, rich taste, whereas robusta tends to be much harsher (and higher in caffeine). "Robusta is generally cheap commodity coffee that goes into everyday mainstream brands and instant coffees, although it must usually be blended with arabica because it tastes terrible," says Vigilante.

Currently, Brazil is working on genetically modified coffee in an attempt to increase the plant's yields and hardiness, although a rollout is several years away. Research is also being done at the University of Hawaii. Resistance to the experimentation is substantial, particularly in Europe, where opponents cite environmental and social concerns. Field trials in French Guiana have been sabotaged.

The Real Juan Valdez
Llach, who once used herbicides and pesticides on his farms, says even though he made sure his workers wore gloves and boots, chemical poisonings were still a problem. Many plantation owners do not provide any protective gear. Dean Cycon, president of Massachusetts-based Dean's Beans coffee company and a cofounder of the advocacy group Coffee Kids, says huge numbers of coffee farmers and workers are indigenous people, many of whom don't speak their national languages.

"These people can't read pesticide labels," he says. "In my experience, around the world about a third of coffee farmers are illiterate, although in Papua New Guinea it's probably more like 90 percent, and in Guatemala it's probably 80 percent of the women." Such workers are at a severe disadvantage to understand the pervasive health threats posed by industrial chemicals.

Of the 100 million people around the world who depend on coffee for their livelihoods, 25 million are farmers, and 70 percent of those people are trying to eke out a living from small plots of land. Between 1962 and 1989, the global coffee trade was managed essentially as a cartel under the International Coffee Agreement, which regulated transactions. At the same time that the agreement was disbanded, bumper crops of java and the entering of new players (notably Vietnam, driven by aggressive government policies) into the market led to a precipitous drop in prices.

By 2001, the New York trading price for unroasted arabica coffee had sunk below 40 cents per pound. In contrast, through much of the 1970s and 1980s, the price was well over a dollar, and averaged $3.07 in 1977. In 1997 it averaged $1.66 a pound. As Gastronomica put it in 2003, "In real terms, prices are probably at their lowest point since coffee first became an internationally traded commodity some thousand years ago." However, according to Haven Bourque, a spokesperson for trade certifier TransFair, the average world cost of growing quality coffee is 80 cents per pound. Bollen says it costs 85 to 90 cents a pound to produce Guatemalan coffee and ship it to the U.S.

Not surprisingly, then, this price slump proved disastrous for many farmers of shade-grown beans. Unemployment rates skyrocketed from Ethiopia and Kenya to Latin America, hitting 80 percent in parts of Nicaragua and Guatemala. In 2001, Oxfam issued a statement saying unless the price paid to coffee farmers improved, it would "consign millions of poor coffee farmers and their families to extreme poverty, with devastating consequences for health, education and social stability."

According to Rainforest Alliance's Vigilante, "The impact on the environment is devastating during very low price years, because farmers are often forced to convert their land into cattle pastures or other destructive uses." This can include making ends meet by liquidating holdings into lumber or switching to sugar cane or plastic greenhouses for ornamental plants. The British Fairtrade Foundation estimated that by the end of 2001, some 1,000 of Colombia's 560,000 coffee farms had begun cultivating coca or opium poppies out of desperation.

"In Panama, I started crying when I heard from a Rainforest Alliance-certified farmer that his neighbor just converted his beautiful shade farm into a golf course," says Vigilante. "People assume coffee farmers are being taken care of, and then they wonder why South Americans are found dead in a van near the U.S. border or why desperate people would blow up our embassies," says Dean's Bean's Cycon.

Coffee prices rose steadily through 2004 and the first months of 2005, and settled around $1.10 a pound during the middle of the year. While this is good for farmers, serious concerns remain. "Many coffee farmers have incurred substantial debt because of the price crisis, and it will carry over for many years," cautions Daniele Giovannucci, a senior consultant for the World Bank. "I think it is patently absurd to say the crisis is over," he says.

"The true crisis is in the fact that coffee prices are so unstable, and that producers can't plan for the future," argues Stephen Greene, a spokesperson for Oxfam America, which recently released a report calling on the U.S. government to take a leadership role in addressing coffee issues.

"The U.S. just rejoined the International Coffee Organization, and it should take an active role by pushing for price stability," says Greene. "The U.S. has allocated money through USAID to help small-scale farmers, and what they need is access to commercial credit, technical assistance and information, participation in international debate and help with marketing. Coffee farmers tend to be very poor and marginalized, and they need help diversifying their incomes."

Other ways groups around the world are helping small coffee farmers and wage workers make ends meet, as well as improve their environmental sustainability, include varied certification programs, such as the organic and Fair Trade movements (see sidebar). "We have to look at the coffee market today, and ask ourselves what's not sustainable," says Greene. "A lot of economists are promoting free trade, but a lot of the things going on in the coffee market are counter to free trade, such as the oligopoly of companies that control the industry. If the commodity market doesn't work for the majority of producers, questions need to be asked."

Barons of the Beverage
Since the collapse of the international coffee cartel, about half of the world's coffee has been controlled by four corporations: Kraft (brands include Kenco and Maxwell House), Procter and Gamble (Folgers and Millstone), Sara Lee (specializes in the service sector, although retail lines include Chock full o'Nuts and Hill Bros.) and Nestle (the Swiss company's Nescafé is the world's number one java brand).

Despite the hardships faced by coffee growers in recent years, these companies have earned robust profits. As Washington Monthly reported, "According to company documents, the Big Four's coffee profit margins are as much as 25 percent--vastly higher than those for most other food products." The magazine concluded, "Prices for specialty blends at supermarkets and cafés have risen, and even the price of mainstream coffee brands like Folgers has not dropped that much. Call it Economics 102--a new paradigm in which both producers and consumers lose."

"The recent increases in the price of green coffee have been more than increases in the price of retail coffee," argues Joseph F. DeRupo, director of communications for the National Coffee Association. "The entire industry supports sustainability at all levels," he says. "The coffee industry invests millions of dollars every year in sustainable production from feed to cup, including helping farmers with technical information, training and initiatives that encourage market development and price transparency. We help improve the lives of farmers with such projects as building schools, libraries and drinking water wells."

Asked if full-sun production is as environmentally sustainable as shade grown, DeRupo responds, "No. Shade-grown coffee clearly promotes the kind of environment that leads to sustainability. Without shade trees you lose the natural flora and fauna that help preserve the land and viable production for years to come."

"If we don't take care of coffee-producing regions, it's a south-to-north redistribution of wealth, and that's just totally wrong," says Cycon. "I don't think the big coffee companies are really moving in a sustainable direction. I think activists have forced them to pay attention, so you'll see marketing dollars go to small projects that look good. But if you pay people a decent amount of money, they can build their own wells."

However, with a growing number of more socially conscious and environmentally responsible options lining the shelves of coffee shops and supermarkets, consumers are in the driver's seat to make sure their morning cups of joe don't turn into cups of woe.

Bungle in the Jungle

If you were standing in the Amazon jungle in the south of Colombia, you would be in one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet, home to one-sixth of the world's bird species, more than 45,000 different kinds of tropical plants, and hundreds of thousands of insect species – many of which are as-of-yet unknown to biologists.

The jungle coexists with small-scale agriculture. If you were able to peer out through the leaves to the edge of the forest, you'd see farm plots lining the edge of the jungle, inhabited by peasant farmers who are living mostly below the poverty line.

On almost any given day in the southern region, spray planes fly in to destroy the crops of these small farms. It starts with the even beat of a military helicopter, followed by a plane that sprays a chemical fog. The substance used is a mixture of glyphosate, water, and added surfactants, comprising a powerful herbicide manufactured by Monsanto that is similar to (but stronger than) Roundup.

Within a few days, all the sprayed crops – food and drug alike – are destroyed completely. The target of the spray is the primary cocaine ingredient coca, which may be interspersed with food-bearing crops. While the applications are not as frequent in other parts of the country as they are in regions like Putumayo in the south, the total targeted land area has grown drastically over the past four years, and will reach an estimated total of 1.2 million acres by 2005. This war on drugs carries unintended consequences, affecting not just the coca but the surrounding ecosystems and the health of the people living there.

The aerial fumigation program is part of a multi-billion dollar counter-narcotics effort known as Plan Colombia. The U.S. State Department, in collaboration with the Colombian government, has spent roughly $3 billion from 2000 to 2004 to put a stop to the cultivation of coca and thus reduce its availability in the United States.

According to a State Department spokesperson, "To date, no reports of alleged adverse health effects related to the spray program have been substantiated. Toxicology tests ... show that the herbicide mixture used for spraying, in the manner it is being used, does not pose any unreasonable risks of adverse effects for humans or the environment."

Yet the policy has met harsh criticism from teams of environmental scientists, rainforest conservation groups and human rights workers.

For many of the subsistence farmers in areas such as Putumayo, coca is the only crop that will provide enough income for survival. Betsy Marsh, author of the report "Going to Extremes," released by the Latin American Working Group (LAWG), says that "the majority of farmers have small landholdings, poor marketing capabilities and no access to credit. The lack of security, roads and transport in rural Colombia prevents substantial agricultural trade. In contrast, drug traffickers offer credit, deliver crops to market and pay higher returns for coca and opium poppy crops than almost any other agricultural product. Nonetheless, farmers who grow coca are not getting rich – they are just getting by."

According to the report, some farmers have willingly eradicated their coca plants to comply with Colombian law and taken advantage of alternative development programs, but these farmers still have their legal crops destroyed by chemical drift.

According to Philip Cryan, a Witness for Peace volunteer who lived in Bogotá for two years, the fumigation has had significant health effects on the populations of subsistence farmers. "People have had skin rashes, diarrhea, and all sorts of health complications such as fevers, eye irritation and even psychological problems. In three cases, children have died after exposure."

Cryan adds that water contamination is another major health issue facing the population. "They instruct pilots not to spray waterways, but I have seen dozens if not hundreds of examples of waterways that were hit," he says. "In many cases, people using water for drinking or bathing don't have access to water by any other means, so they continue to use it, even though they know it will harm them."

In addition to human health concerns, there are a host of environmental issues associated with the fumigation. Deforestation, ecosystem damage and contamination have all been linked to the aerial eradication program by non-governmental organizations. According to a report released by the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA, in Spanish), the fumigation program has never been subject to a comprehensive environmental impact statement.

"The Minister of Environment initially ordered the protection of sizable buffer zones around potentially sensitive areas like human settlements, legal crop fields, surface waters and national parks," reads the AIDA report. "These buffer zones have now been drastically reduced. Coca growers' practices have changed to adapt to the fumigation, seeping into difficult-to-detect plots scattered throughout the ecologically sensitive forest as well as spilling over the border into neighboring countries.

In June of 2003, Colombia's National Council on Dangerous Drugs passed a resolution that permits the spraying of illicit crops in the national parks. "The national parks are now overrun by coca producers," says Anna Cedarstav, staff scientist for Earthjustice and AIDA. Indeed, the U.S. State Department estimates that nearly 10 percent of Colombia's coca is now embedded in these areas.

There are signs that the ecosystem is suffering. According to Betsy Marsh, "EPA assessments and numerous field reports suggest that spray drift from aerial eradication likely causes substantial damage to non-target vegetation, destroying habitat and causing adverse effects to wildlife. Municipal reports from southern Colombia and rural communities along the Ecuadorian border cite numerous fish kills – in one instance the spraying apparently killed 70,000 newly hatched fish in aquaculture ponds."

Marsh asserts that while LAWG supports the end goal of reducing cocaine availability in the United States, it opposes the extreme method by which this is being done. Instead, LAWG advocates social assistance for Colombia, including humanitarian aid for displaced people, alternative development aid to help small farmers switch to legal crops and expanded drug treatment programs in the United States.

The fumigation program's success in terms of suppressing coca cultivation is debatable, depending on the source. The State Department declares that the program has led to a total reduction of 33 percent of coca and poppy in Colombia, but LAWG is quick to point out that trends throughout the entire Andean region show that production has remained stable over the past 15 years, and even U.S. drug czar John Walters admitted in August of 2004 that the program has not led to a reduction in cocaine availability in the United States.

According to Adam Isacson, director of the Colombia program at the Center for International Policy, there is still a great deal of support for the program in Washington. "For those in opposition, it's still an uphill battle," he says.

The Low-Carb Conundrum

Last week, my favorite health-food supermarket was invaded with little red-and-blue circular signs. They read �Low-Carb� and appeared on everything from tomatoes to bulk cashews to reformulated bread and pasta. I�ve been trying to ignore the carb-counting craze, but those ubiquitous signs were missing from some of my favorite foods, and it bothered me. Was I eating less healthily than half the people I know who seem to be on one of the many low-carb diets?

From an Atkins-obsessed co-worker to the publisher of E magazine, it seems that everyone is trying it, and many are losing weight. In a recent survey by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, 74 percent of respondents said they were following some form of low-carb diet. E�s publisher lost about 20 pounds over several months.

Many of these plans call for increased protein and fat, often in the form of meat and other animal products, which would seem to run contrary to a vegetarian diet. In fact I began to wonder if it is possible to eat a low-carb diet and still eat healthily.

Is it Healthy?

A host of medical professionals, not to mention vegetarian activists, have sounded off about low-carb diet plans. Mainstream news outlets, from the New York Times to Time magazine, have quoted experts opining that low-carb diets are likely to be unhealthy. Rob Walters, the chairperson of Australia�s Division of General Practice, joined the Australian Medical Association in launching a major campaign against low-carb diets, which he says are �fad diets that engender undesirable eating patterns.� One of the major complaints of critics is the shift toward promoting saturated fat and animal protein, which years of research have linked to cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

On the other hand, several reports have come out supporting low-carbohydrate diets as a valuable weight-loss tool. Some are heralding a new �low-carb lifestyle.� A study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School recently reported that the Atkins plan �may be safe,� at least in the short term (no sizable long-term studies have yet been conducted on a low-carb lifestyle).

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which promotes vegetarian and vegan diets, has been an outspoken critic of Atkins, in particular, because of the plan�s reliance on meat. The group argues, �Despite press accounts of seemingly dramatic weight loss, the effect of high-protein diets on body weight is similar to other weight-reduction diets.� The American Heart Association states, �High-protein diets are not recommended. Individuals who follow these diets are at risk for compromised vitamin and mineral intake, as well as potential cardiac, renal, bone and liver abnormalities overall.�

In the face of an obesity epidemic, Atkins supporters argue that the traditional medical recommendation to eat less fat often doesn�t work, since people either give up their diet or overcompensate later because they miss fat. The Atkins theory goes like this: normally, the body burns carbohydrates before it burns fat. By eating fewer carbs, the body burns them much more quickly and then immediately starts burning fats, leading to the rapid weight loss commonly associated with the diet.

Dr. Pamela Peeke, a professor at the Maryland School of Medicine and author of Fighting Fat After 40, argues, �This theory is nothing but conjecture. It�s really important that we burn a mix of carbohydrates and fats, since different parts of the body need different fuels. For example, the brain needs glucose, which comes from carbohydrates.� Peeke points to a 1995 study that found diets like Atkins impair cognitive performance in higher-order mental processing after only one week.

However, not all low-carbohydrate diets preach a simple more-meat, less-vegetables gospel. The low-carb diet universe is pretty diverse, and also includes the Scarsdale diet, the Protein Plan, the South Beach Diet (to some extent), and whole-foods, low-carb eating plans exemplified by the eponymous Low-Carb Dieting for Dummies book from John Wiley and Sons.

According to industry icon Atkins Nutritionals, �Animal proteins are a vital component of doing Atkins and it is difficult to follow the program without them. Limited options would make it boring and most vegetarians do not stay with it long term.� But vice president of education and research for Atkins, Collette Heimovitz, says vegetarians can follow Atkins, as long as they eat cheese and eggs. �Vegans shouldn�t really do this program, but there are other low-carb plans they could follow,� says Heimovitz.

Of course, many observers argue that most vegans don�t need to go on a diet. According to the American Dietetic Association, if you avoid all animal products, you are likely to have a lower body mass index and lower rates of heart disease, prostate and colon cancers and diabetes. But it�s also true that many vegetarians and partial-vegetarians (not to mention the general public) may want to lose a few pounds.

Toeing a hard line, PCRM insists no one should consider increasing their intake of such high-fat and cholesterol foods as eggs, cheese and butter, regardless of dieting theories. But the debate isn�t all black and white. E�s publisher, a long-time vegetarian, has been losing weight the �low-carb� way while still following the bulk of more traditional diet recommendations. He avoids carbs but hasn�t added any saturated fats and cholesterol. He fills up on leafy greens and less-starchy vegetables while consuming a reduced number of calories overall.

Many scientists have in fact suggested that low-carb diets work simply because reducing or eliminating any major food group is likely to result in a lower total caloric intake, as long as the person doesn�t overcompensate too much with other foods. Perhaps certain carbohydrates are easier to give up than fats.

Atkins, in particular, has drawn the ire of many natural health advocates because it excludes many fruits, some vegetables, grains and even legumes, especially in the first leg of the plan, called induction. Peeke argues, �When in doubt, eat all the veggies you want!� Some supporters of the diet counter that one needn�t necessarily abstain from fruits and vegetables for a lifetime, just for a weight-losing period.

Even if Atkins doesn�t sound appealing, there are a wide variety of weight-loss plans for those of us who have had one too many slices of tofu cheesecake. To lose a few pounds, Peeke suggests, �Watch your servings of bread, choose cooked whole grains, eat the majority of your starchy foods before evening, and avoid eating after 8 p.m.�

Julia Fawkes Stuart is a freelance writer specializing in health topics.

Breaking The Diet - ADD Link

Is it the diet? Parents who have children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) have long been told that their kids can't be helped by dietary changes, and only a small percentage of kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are helped by a restrictive diet.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), ADHD affects three to five percent of children, perhaps as many as two million American kids.

"On the average, at least one child in every U.S. classroom needs help for the disorder," the NIH says. "ADHD often continues into adulthood, and can cause a lifetime of frustrated dreams and emotional pain."

The government position is that diet changes won't help most children with ADD or ADHD. A NIH study in 1982 tested the theory that refined sugar and food additives make children hyperactive and inattentive. "After studying the data, the scientists concluded that the restricted diet only seemed to help about five percent of children with ADHD, mostly either young children or children with food allergies," NIH says. As a result, most pediatricians have been telling parents that diet isn't the problem, despite observations of many parents that certain foods, particularly chocolate, soda and other sweets, tend to make their kids bounce off the walls.

Change the Diet, Change the Kid

Laura J. Stevens, author of the book "Twelve Effective Ways to Help Your ADD/ADHD Child," and a researcher on the topic for 25 years, says more recent research is increasing the evidence that diet is an important element, particularly with ADHD, which displays itself as short attention spans combined with hyperactivity.

"The problem is it's different foods for different kids," says Stevens. "Helping your child with behavioral problems resembles solving a jigsaw puzzle. For one child, one 'piece' might be sensitivities to common foods and additives. A 'piece' for another child might be a marginal iron deficiency." A study published in the European Journal of Pediatrics in 1997 found that children with ADHD had changes in brain waves after being fed certain foods. About half reacted to sugar, with a smaller percentage of reactions being shown to artificial colors, wheat and milk.

Dr. William Sears (known as "America's Pediatrician") and Lydia Thompson, authors of "The ADD Book," say that while most studies have shown diet has little effect on ADD, "Try explaining this to a mother whose child goes wild after eating a Twinkie. As parents and professionals, we certainly believe in the food-mood connection in some children. Even though in the majority of cases children's diet is not the cause of the behavioral problem, it can certainly contribute to it."

Some studies that allegedly disprove the link between sugar and hyperactivity are questionable. "One study that achieved front-page prominence in a national newspaper concluded that sugar had no effect on behavior, yet the study included only 25 children each in the placebo and sugar diet group," Sears and Thompson say. "Healthy nutrition is important to all children; it is doubly important for a child with ADD. The better you feed the brain, the better it works. It stands to reason that unhealthy nutrition can lead to diminished brain function."

Dr. David Dugger, a pediatrician in Gautier, Mississippi, who specializes in treating ADD/ADHD, admits that studies haven't proven a link between sugar and hyperactivity, but he says poor nutrition can definitely lead to behavioral problems. "If all you feed a child is Coke and hot dogs, you shouldn't be surprised if he is too wired up to sleep," Dugger says. "The caffeine alone could have a bad effect on his behavior."

Testing the Wrong Foods

One reason why earlier research may have given physicians a bum steer on the diet/ADHD connection is that foods now considered to be a concern were not eliminated in the earlier diets tested: milk, chocolate, wheat, rye, corn, citrus, legumes and eggs.

In order to determine what's at fault, foods that commonly cause problems can be eliminated and then added back in one at a time to judge the reaction. Such diets should be done in consultation with a physician and a dietician.

Another option is getting an ELISA blood test for food sensitivities. Stevens says that despite allergists' advice, frustrated parents have found the results of the blood test useful in planning a diet without the foods that "turn their child on."

One problem for some children may be fatty acids deficiencies. Stevens has been involved in research at Purdue University that has shown about 40 percent of ADHD children studied had symptoms of such deficiencies. A later study supplementing the ADHD children with fatty acids has had promising results.

The Effects of Pollution

There is also evidence that pollution can cause behavioral changes in children. "Toxic chemicals pollute our air, soil, food and water and adversely affect our health," says Stevens. "Gases, cleaning fluids, formaldehyde, scents and other chemicals can make a child irritable, inattentive, spacey, aggressive, depressed or hyperactive."

Also, lead poisoning can mimic ADHD symptoms. Indoor mold and second-hand tobacco smoke can also affect children's health and behavior. Some experts suggest combining a toxic- and allergy-free environment with vitamin and mineral supplements. Rachel Bell and Dr. Howard Peiper, authors of "The ADD and ADHD Diet Book," also believe that food and environmental allergens are important.

"People with ADD/ADHD may be fine one minute and off the wall the next," say Bell and Peiper. "This behavior may not be random at all. It could be due to a blood sugar disturbance, mineral imbalance, toxic metals at the cellular level or other factors."

In the book "Is This Your Child's World?" and the video Environmentally Sick Schools, Dr. Doris Rapp demonstrates a decline in writing and drawing skills when children are exposed to toxic chemicals, as well as to certain foods, dust, mold and pollen. Children did poorly on tests after applications of cleaning chemicals or insecticides, or after exposure to common allergenic substances.

"These exposures bring about fatigue, headaches, intestinal problems, muscle aches, recurrent infections, bed wetting, hayfever, asthma, hives and learning and behavioral problems," says Rapp, who has been treating children with allergies and chemical sensitivities for more than 30 years.

Rapp doesn't understand why parents are being told to put their children on drugs that can have harmful side effects without first trying simple diet changes and eliminating toxins that may be causing the problems. She claims dramatic changes can occur in four to seven days.

Becky Gillette is a freelance writer based in Ocean Springs, Miss. This article originally appeared in E Magazine.

Is Big Energy Hijacking Hydrogen?

Whether or not hydrogen becomes "the people's energy" depends to a large extent on how it is generated and transported in the current, early stages of development. This sustainable gas can be generated locally via renewables like wind, biomass or solar power, but it could also be a new product for our large-scale, centralized oil and nuclear power industries. Mike Nicklas, chairperson of the American Solar Energy Society (ACES), warns that even though the Bush administration is publicly supporting hydrogen development through its new FreedomCAR program, its vision does not support clean energy technologies for hydrogen production.

"'Clean' in this case means coal, nuclear and natural gas," says Nicklas, who attended the federal National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap Workshop last April. Fossil fuel and nuclear industry representatives dominated the session on hydrogen production, Nicklas observes. "We're now at the point of making a transition to an entirely new energy paradigm, and we don't need to be continuing the carbon era by other means." Nicklas says that ACES is working with other groups, including Worldwatch and the World Resources Institute, to promote truly renewable hydrogen generation.

In what could be a parallel to its purchase of many solar companies, the oil industry is buying in to hydrogen: Shell established Shell Renewables in 1997 and Shell Hydrogen in 2000, BP/Amoco is investing $500 million in renewables over three years, and ChevronTexaco has purchased a 20 percent stake in Energy Conversion Devices, a Detroit-based photovoltaic, battery and fuel-cell company.

Large utilities are also interested in generating hydrogen from what they call "clean coal," coupled with a scheme to "sequester," or isolate the resulting carbon dioxide emissions to prevent them from entering the atmosphere. According to one scenario, coal would react with steam and oxygen before combustion to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide, with the carbon dioxide liquefied and stored underground in deep aquifers or other geological formations.

Going Nuclear

At the annual meeting of the World Nuclear Association in London last September, the group's director general, John Ritch, touted what he called the "hydrogen-nuclear economy." He envisions "an entirely clean energy global economy, with nuclear power supplying not only electricity and clean water, but also energizing transport of all kinds."

There are 400 conventional nuclear plants in the world, generating a sixth of global electricity. While these plants produce no emissions of carbon dioxide, the major global warming gas, they have created an intractable radioactive waste crisis and an ongoing safety debate that has made it extremely difficult to license any new facilities.

Some scientists see the need for large-scale hydrogen production as a way to jumpstart the moribund nuclear industry. Speaking at the International Youth Nuclear Congress in South Korea last April, Dr. Leon Walters, former director of engineering at Argonne National Laboratory, estimated that nuclear powernow just seven percent of U.S. power productioncould leap to 50 percent if it were harnessed to produce hydrogen for transportation. He estimates that a transition to a hydrogen-nuclear economy would take 30 years.

General Atomics held a workshop last May on producing hydrogen from both conventional nuclear fission and as-yet unproven nuclear fusion. L.M. Wagner of Boeing said at the forum that hydrogen could be profitably produced in off-peak hours from fusion reactors. Nuclear fusion, if it were feasible, would produce no radioactive waste or bomb-grade materials, but no practical process for a fusion reactor has yet been demonstrated, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in funding over the past 50 years.

Joan Ogden, a Princeton research scientist, says that the frontrunner for nuclear hydrogen production is a thermochemical heat process. "This is a difficult technology that is much further from commercialization than many other hydrogen production options," Ogden says. A recent analysis by Ogden's Princeton colleague, Robert Williams, found that thermochemical nuclear hydrogen would be an expensive and complicated procedure when compared to other methods.

Environmentalists have reacted with dismay to the attempt to nuclearize hydrogen production. "Nuclear-generated hydrogen is like a nicotine patch that causes cancer," says Dan Becker, energy program director for the Sierra Club. "This certainly explains one level of the Bush administration's sudden interest. But if we're looking to hydrogen to free us from old forms of energy, why would we suddenly go nuclear, with all the well-known problems?"

The federal Roadmap workshop that Nicklas attended did indeed give a prominent role to nuclear-generated hydrogen, and included representatives from General Atomics, Savannah River Technology Center and Entergy Nuclear. With funding from industry and the federal Department of Energy (DOE), participants projected that they could have a pilot plant for producing hydrogen from nuclear power in place by 2010.

DOE's hydrogen production scenario is bizarrely tilted toward nuclear power, echoing the emphasis of Vice President Dick Cheney's closed-door sessions for the 2001 National Energy Policy. The policy directs the Secretary of Energy to vastly expand the nation's nuclear generating capacity, and to "develop next generation technology including hydrogen and fusion." A paper prepared by DOE energy scientist Samuel Rosenbloom, "Hydrogen Development Program: A Perspective," is stridently pro-nuke, describing renewable production as "high risk" and "long term." The proposed goal: "Nuclear-driven hydrogen production demonstration by 2006," coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein's relativity theory.

Speaking anonymously, a high-ranking official in DOE's Office of Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and Infrastructure Technologies said that hydrogen should be generated from "diverse feedstocks [including reformation of fossil fuels, nuclear and electrolysis of water using renewable sources], with some more suited to certain regions than others." The official said that many DOE scientists had concluded that nuclear generation of hydrogen "is the way to go," but added, "I personally don't think that they've addressed the waste issue in a way that alleviates the fears of the public."

A Level Playing Field

Thomas Jackson, president of Milford, Connecticut-based Avalence, which is working on residential hydrogen electrolyzers (essentially, a home-based hydrogen station), worries that federal incentives will go to the nuclear industry and strongly influence what would otherwise be a free market for new technologies. "There needs to be a level playing field that includes all the different approaches," Jackson says.

Similarly skeptical is C. E. "Sandy" Thomas, president of Virginia-based H2Gen, which is moving rapidly to develop natural gas steam reformation technology to install hydrogen pumps at gas stations around the country by 2004. Thomas, an advocate of direct, renewable-generated hydrogen since his days as an advisor to Ford's fuel-cell efforts, is very dubious about nuclear fusion, which he notes has yet to reach the break-even point of energy production. Even if a breakthrough did occur, he says, "engineers would still have to design, build and test reactors that could produce a net increase in energy at an affordable cost." Thomas' vision calls for localized hydrogen production. "Make the hydrogen where people want it," he says, "at filling stations, at fleet operators' garages and even at home. Through economies of mass production, that could be the least costly way to make hydrogen in the long run."

Obviously, the world's dominant energy industries will not happily go out of business or voluntarily cede market share to renewables, though there is growing evidence that, at least in the long term, solar and wind power could be harnessed to produce a decentralized, completely zero-emission energy loop. Thomas, who champions steam reformation of natural gas as an interim step, advocates a truly spectacular zero emissions end game, in which the fuel is produced from a combination of regionally appropriate photovoltaic collectors, wind generators or biomass. "Imagine," he says, "a motor vehicle fuel so clean-burning that you could drink the effluent from the tailpipe, with urban smog a distant memory."

Even the most ardent environmentalists admit that this vision is still many years down the road, and that short-term solutions (probably a mix of steam reformation of natural gas or electrolysis of water) will be needed to make the transition from fossil fuels. But if hydrogen is captured by today's big energy interests, the dream of zero emissions and local control will almost certainly never be realized. "A fair question to ask is whether the hydrogen future will be driven by big energy companies or done over their dead bodies," says Jason Mark, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' clean vehicle program. "We don't want to wake up in the middle of the night and find that our dream of a clean hydrogen revolution has become a nightmare."

Jim Motavalli is the editor of E Magazine.

Water is Becoming a Dangerous Drug

Birth control pills, estrogen replacement drugs, ibuprofen, bug spray, sunscreen, mouthwash and antibacterial soap: all of these products could turn up in your next glass of tap water, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Last summer, USGS scientists sampled 139 rivers and streams, finding hundreds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs and personal care products lingering in the nation's water supply.

In many cases, these tiny drug particles were found in river water that is recycled -- flowing from one city's sewer plant into another city's drinking water system. Many cities can't afford the charcoal filters required to screen out the final traces of these byproducts, so they end up in the drinking water, experts say. Rural homeowners who use well water are at an even greater risk. USGS researchers also turned up antibiotics in nearly half the streams that were sampled, raising other concerns about the nation's growing antibiotic resistance problem. "This study raised a bunch of red flags," says Dana Kolpin, lead author of the USGS study. "At these low concentrations, I think there are going to be long-term effects that may take several generations to show up."

A Threat to Reproductive Health

The dangers of endocrine-disrupting water pollutants such as dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are well known -- they have been linked to a variety of reproductive health problems, from endometriosis to low sperm counts. Synthetic hormones in the water may have similar health effects -- on both people and wildlife -- at very low levels of exposure. "All of these compounds are going into a chemical soup," says Theo Colborn, senior scientist at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and author of "Our Stolen Future."

Colborn says she is worried about pharmaceutical estrogens mixing with chemicals already present in streams. "You can liken it to side effects you get with a prescription drug -- you don't know how it's going to interact with the over-the-counter drugs you're taking," Colborn says. "It's the unexpected, interactive effects we never predicted that are a real concern."

For example, Colborn says, bisphenol A, a component of plastic that is also used as a fire retardant, causes female mice to reach puberty earlier than normal. Bisphenol A forms a weak bond with the body's estrogen receptors. It can scramble a cell's natural communication system and cause it to replicate too quickly. That, in turn, raises concerns about breast cancer in humans. What happens if this compound, which is active at low levels of exposure, combines with estrogen from a birth control pill in the water? At this point, it's still unclear. Colborn says, "It could have long-term health effects."

These estrogens also could have an additive effect with chemicals such as PCBs, which are found in animal tissue. A recent study by researchers at Michigan State University found mink that were fed a diet of PCB-laden fish from the polluted Housatonic River in Connecticut had offspring with lower birth weights and higher infant mortality rates. Housatonic Riverkeeper Tim Gray, a member of the New York-based Waterkeeper's Alliance, wonders if PCBs interfere with the mink's reproduction, what will synthetic estrogen and other drugs do?

Until recently, people thought the estrogens in birth control pills were rendered inactive by the body because the kidneys tack on an extra sugar molecule before they are excreted, says William Owens, a toxicologist who researched estrogen patches for Procter & Gamble. But now, scientists have learned bacteria in sewage treatment plants chew off that sugar molecule.

A British researcher, John Sumpter, contributed to this discovery while studying fish living near a London wastewater treatment plant. He found male fish that were producing eggs. After he found the compound estradiol in the fish tissue, he concluded estrogens from birth control pills were part of the problem.

Antibiotic Resistance is Growing

Another active area of research and debate is antibiotic resistance. The Union of Concerned Scientists says farmers use 70 percent of antibiotics in the United States. Large factory farms use antibiotics to prevent confined, crowded-together cows or chickens from getting sick. But that practice is creating "superbugs," such as virulent strains of salmonella that can be deadly to humans and difficult to treat. Those superbugs typically are spread to consumers through contaminated meat, but people who drink from private wells also are vulnerable, says Dr. John Balbus, director of the environmental health program for Environmental Defense.

Meanwhile, thousands of pounds of triclosan -- the active ingredient in antibacterial soaps, deodorants, sponges and household cleaners -- are also going down the drain into our waterways. Susan Cellura, a spokesperson for Ciba Specialty Chemicals, which manufactures triclosan, says the chemical does not contribute to the antibacterial resistance problem. She quotes a recent report by the European Commission's Scientific Steering Committee, which concludes: "There is no convincing evidence that triclosan poses a risk to humans or the environment by inducing or transmitting antibacterial resistance under current conditions of use." Ciba's research also purports to show that triclosan does not pose any health threat to wildlife or humans because it's present in water at very low levels, 0.1 part per billion.

"This is well below the 'safe' level of 0.7 parts per million established by research," Cellura says. But other studies have shown that triclosan does contribute to the resistance problem. Because triclosan is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent, it kills all bacteria on the body and household surfaces -- even the beneficial kind. That, in turn, creates an environment where the superbugs can flourish, says a Tufts University study. The Tufts researchers also argue that the levels of triclosan in common handsoaps and cleaners are not strong enough to kill certain harmful bacteria. In an August report, the American Medical Association called on the scientific community to do a more thorough review of whether antibacterial consumer products do more harm than good. "The use of these products have never been shown to be superior, to my knowledge, to regular soap and water," says Dr. Tamar Barlan, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest's project on antibiotic resistance.

Protect Yourself -- and the Environment

So what are the solutions? Legislation could be one option. The government could, for example, require all cities that use treated wastewater for drinking to install charcoal filters, although that would be costly. That type of legislation won't likely be passed until research pinpoints exactly how risky these substances can be for humans and wildlife. But until recently, says Kolpin of the USGS, researchers had no way to even measure these compounds at the very low levels they appear in streams. The Waterkeeper Alliance's Gray joins the WWF and other green groups in the call to enact stronger clean water laws. "This new report paints a scary picture of what's out there in our rivers and lakes," he says.

In the meantime, consumers can protect themselves and the environment. WWF's Colborn recommends drinking distilled water, possibly produced by your own distiller system. If you must buy bottled water, she adds, pour it into a glass container instead of leaving it in the plastic bottle. Other steps include:

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Heavy Metal Harm

The late singer-songwriter Laura Nyro loved to eat tuna fish. An avid environmentalist, she was shocked to hear that her favorite food was contaminated with the toxic heavy metal mercury, and she expressed her anger in a song. "I'm young enough, I'm old enough in the city machine/ Where industries fill the fish full of mercury (it's tax free)."

Nyro was right to worry about eating fish, and right about industrial mercury use. Forty states have issued advisories about eating fish that may have high levels of mercury in their tissues. As recently as last July, Massachusetts public health officials warned young women and children under 12 to stop eating "most" fish caught in state rivers and lakes, and to avoid certain seafood. Tuna was on the list, as was swordfish.

Mercury is a persistent heavy metal, processed into a liquid from mined cinnabar, that accumulates in water and in the tissues of humans, fish and animals. It was declared a hazardous air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1971.

According to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, long-term human exposure to mercury in either organic or inorganic form "can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetuses." A potent neurotoxin, mercury is slowly being phased out of many commercial uses, including consumer thermometers, but it is still used in many industrial processes and is in such products as fluorescent lights, home and appliance thermostats, and even toys.

Ask most people about mercury in the environment and they're apt to think of broken thermometers. But the truth is that industry, in the form of coal-fired power plants, electric arc furnaces (which melt and recycle the steel from old cars) and municipal waste incinerators are the major sources. In landfills and in water, bacterial contamination turns mercury into its most toxic form, methyl mercury.

Mercury also gets into the environment in pharmaceutical products, and through ritual religious uses, especially in Latin American Santeria. Mercury sells for less than $2 a pound on the wholesale market, and even when it is "recycled," it may still end up in the environment.

Progress is being made to end some of mercury's more visible uses, but the campaign is far from over. Five states have laws that either put some restrictions on mercury use, sale or disposal or require labeling of products containing it. Similar bills are pending in 15 state legislatures.

"Despite state and local bans, thousands of retailers still sell mercury thermometers to consumers who aren't aware of the risks," says Felice Stadler, policy coordinator of the National Wildlife Federation's Clean the Rain campaign.

"Just one seventieth of a teaspoon of atmospheric mercury can contaminate a 20-acre lake for a year," says Michael Bender, executive director of the Vermont-based Mercury Policy Project. "We have to take mercury permanently out of commerce. It's not that difficult to containerize it and store it indefinitely. An ideal solution would be the kind of 'producer responsibility' laws they have in Europe, which make companies responsible for their waste."

U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) has proposed legislation that would create a task force to address the mercury problem on a national scale. Under her bill, the Mercury Reduction and Disposal Act, S.351, the sale of thermometers containing the metal would be banned nationally, and the mercury inside them would be stockpiled and treated similarly to nuclear waste. Stadler says, "Enacting a nationwide ban on sales is essential."

In response to a campaign led by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), five drugstore chains, including CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, Wal-Mart and Eckerd, have agreed to stop selling mercury thermometers. These companies represent 71 percent of chain pharmacies, but mercury thermometers are still on sale at Kroger, Medicine Shoppe, Publix and Fred's stores.

"It's appalling that there are retailers that continue to sell potentially dangerous mercury devices to their customers, especially when safe alternatives exist in the marketplace," says Jamie Harvie, mercury coordinator of HCWH.

Eight states and a number of cities have banned or restricted the sale of mercury thermometers, and 600 hospitals and clinics have agreed to get mercury out of their waste streams.

But mercury thermometers are only one, very visible part of the problem. Because mercury has many uses and applications, the movement to get it out of the atmosphere must take a multi-pronged approach. Some of the campaigns have made more headway than others, but all have acquired a new urgency as the dangers of mercury become better known.

Fish Filled With Mercury

According to a 2001 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, one of 10 American women of childbearing age is at risk for having a baby born with neurological problems due to in utero mercury exposure. Statistically, that means 375,000 babies are at risk every year. Nearly six million women who might be considering having a child already have mercury levels above EPA safety guidelines.

As recounted in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC study was based on a national survey of mercury in blood and hair, while previous studies were estimates based on per capita fish consumption.

"New studies show that far more women are at risk of exposure to methyl mercury than previously thought," says Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

She urges the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to monitor commercial seafood and to remove unsafe fish from the market.

A federal General Accounting Office (GAO) report, commissioned by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) in 1999, concludes that the FDA has failed in its efforts to protect the public from mercury-tainted seafood. The report faulted the FDA's Hazard Analysis Critical Point regulations for not providing proper guidance to the fishing industry about safeguarding the public.

A joint report by the Mercury Policy Project and California Communities Against Toxics in 2000 charged that the FDA had stopped mercury monitoring for tuna, shark and swordfish, despite the fact that the FDA's previous testing found more than one part per million (considered the "action level") of mercury in more than half the swordfish it evaluated. Some 33 percent of shark tissue studied by the FDA was found to exceed the action level for mercury, as was four percent of tuna. In 2001, the FDA finally recommended that women of childbearing age not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish. Tuna was not mentioned.

"The GAO report shows that mercury pollution threatens both sportfish and seafood," says Eric Uram of the Sierra Club's Midwestern office. "Consumers need to watch what fish they eat, no matter where it comes from -- the restaurant, store, lake or seashore."

A 2001 study that looked specifically at the New England states gave them a mixed report card for their efforts to reduce mercury levels in the environment, and warn the public about the risks. The New England Zero Mercury Campaign praised the states for developing health-based advisories about mercury in fish, but it urged them to do more to "effectively communicate these health warnings to women who may become pregnant and families with young children.Strategically targeted and culturally sensitive outreach and education is needed to prevent dangerous mercury exposure from fish, especially from commonly eaten seafood."

Prenatal mercury exposure, said the New England report, "can hurt children's ability to remember, pay attention, talk, draw, run and play, and increase the number of children who have trouble keeping up in school or require special education, according to the National Academy of Sciences." According to Dr. Ted Schettler of Physicians for Social Responsibility, "Relatively small amounts of contaminated fish eaten often, or larger amounts eaten occasionally, can harm developing fetal brains during windows of vulnerability. The fetus is extremely sensitive to mercury."

Switching Off Auto Mercury

What do the high-intensity headlights, anti-lock brake systems, global positioning screens and trunk- or hood-mounted light switches on your car have in common? They all may contain highly toxic mercury. The Clean Car Campaign, a coalition of several environmental groups, is trying to persuade the auto industry to not only stop all uses of mercury, but also to take responsibility for the heavy metal already installed in hundreds of millions of on-the-road vehicles.

The industry has agreed to phase out most uses of mercury switches by the end of the 2001 model year, but it is not surprisingly balking at the monumental effort needed to remove existing switches, many of which it says would prove difficult to locate. (At presstime, the state of Maine passed landmark legislation requiring carmakers to pay for a mercury auto switch recovery program that will take at least 90 pounds of the metal out of the environment every year.)

According to the Mercury Policy Project's Michael Bender, the auto industry installed 10 tons of mercury in car switches in 1995, although that amount was dramatically reduced by the 2001 model year. Mercury light switches are now used in only a few General Motors vehicles. Most European and Japanese auto manufacturers stopped installing mercury convenience light switches in the mid-1990s. But even as the switches are being phased out, many domestic and foreign companies are equipping their cars with headlights, brake components and navigational systems containing mercury.

The EPA, in a report to Congress in 1997, estimated that 158 tons of the metal are released into the atmosphere annually from manmade sources in the U.S.

"The auto industry is not the major source, but it's definitely a significant source," says Bender, who points to coal- fired power plants and waste combustors as the prime culprits nationally for mercury release.

Charles Griffith, the auto project director of Michigan's Ecology Center, a member of the Clean Car Campaign, says that the mercury in auto switches is released into the atmosphere when steel recovered from scrapped automobiles is melted down in electric arc furnaces (EAFs). A study produced jointly by the Ecology Center, the Buffalo-based Great Lakes United and the University of Tennessee Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies estimates that 15.6 metric tons of mercury are released annually by EAFs, more than all other manufacturing sources combined.

Bob Kainz, a senior manager for pollution prevention and life cycle programs at DaimlerChrysler, says that only two of the company's 2001 products, the Jeep Cherokee and Wrangler, still had mercury switches in their ABS brake systems, and that both models will be free of the heavy metal when they're redesigned over the next few years.

"There are better ways of handling this problem than going after the carmakers," Kainz says. "Eighty-seven percent of the mercury going out into the atmosphere is coming from utility boilers, waste combustors, coal-fired power plants, cement plants and medical incinerators."

Kainz adds that DaimlerChrysler's records do not consistently identify which cars or trucks actually have mercury switches. The auto industry, through such trade groups as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, has lobbied against the laws, arguing that it is phasing out mercury on its own.

Greg Dana, vice president for environmental affairs of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, says that General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler began removing mercury from their products in 1995 under an agreement with the state of Michigan. The mercury switches in existing cars, he says, should be removed when the car is at the end of its life.

"The recyclers are already taking out the gasoline, oil, and air-conditioner refrigerant," Dana says. "It's a simple add-on for them to rip out the mercury switches."

The auto trade groups support legislation requiring recyclers to remove the switches as part of the dismantling process, but this has produced a fierce reaction from junkyard operators and scrap steel dealers. Both the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries say they have little financial incentive to take on the task, with each switch containing only a gram of the metal and mercury trading at less than $2 a pound.

According to ARA Vice President Bill Steinkuller, "The auto manufacturers engineered the vehicles to include mercury switches, produced the product and profited from it. From our point of view, it defies logic that they now want to deny any responsibility for the mercury and put the onus on the dismantlers."

The auto industry and the recyclers are fighting a war of words over mercury, but there is some chance of reconciliation.

"We're not trying to pick a fight with the manufacturers," Steinkuller says. "If we get beyond the rhetoric, we can probably get together and handle this problem."

Unfortunately, ARA's proposed solution -- in which the carmakers foot the bill for a nationwide program of mercury collection and storage -- is precisely the kind of high-cost program the auto industry is trying to avoid.

Chewing on Mercury

Anita Vasquez Tibau was a young college dance major 20 years ago when she suddenly found herself unable to breathe.

"I could hardly walk," she told Dr. L.A. McKeown in an article for WebMD Medical News. "I couldn't do anything. I was using my inhaler every half hour."

These problems plagued Tibau for 20 years until, in 2000, a blood test showed she was highly sensitive to mercury. After Tibau had a dentist remove all 13 of her mercury fillings, her health improved dramatically. She no longer uses any asthma medicine, and she reports much higher energy levels and an increased attention span.

The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that 76 percent of dentists use dental amalgam -- a mixture of metals, including silver, dissolved with mercury. The ADA denies that there are any safety problems with dental amalgam.

"Studies have failed to find any link between amalgam restorations and any medical disorder," the association says. But it concedes that "a very small number of people" are allergic to the fillings. "Fewer than 100 cases have ever been reported," says the ADA. "Symptoms of amalgam allergy are very similar to a typical skin allergy."

The ADA defended its position in court last year after Consumers for Dental Choice sued the ADA and the California Dental Association, claiming that both groups were misleading the public about the mercury content of what they call "silver fillings." But the ADA says it has never tried to hide the mercury connection.

A paper prepared by Consumers for Dental Choice and DAMS, another anti- amalgam advocacy group, charges that every amalgam filling releases 10 micrograms of mercury into the body daily, which is two-thirds of the excretable mercury level. The report also charges that mercury can cross the placental barrier into the tissue of a developing fetus, and it implicates the metal in kidney impairment, loss of immune function, antibiotic resistance and lowered fertility.

Boyd Haley, chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Kentucky, has been an expert witness before Congress on the mercury issue.

"They place this stuff in people's mouths and it's toxic before it goes in, and it's toxic when it is placed in your tooth, so how does it suddenly become safe?" Haley asks.

Many dentists, under pressure on the mercury issue, have switched to alternatives. According to Richard Epstein, a Connecticut-based dentist, "While I believe that the studies disparaging silver amalgam are seriously flawed, the alternatives are effective enough to warrant switching. I now use gold and composite materials."

Dentists have also been under fire for releasing unused amalgam into the waste stream, where it can enter the aquatic food chain. Some have invested in disposable amalgam traps, which catch the metal before it goes down the drain. Recaptured amalgam can be shipped to groups like Dental Recycling North America, which recovers 90 to 95 percent of the mercury in the fillings.

Congresswoman Diane Watson (D-CA) introduced legislation last year that would ban all mercury-based dental amalgam in five years. The New York State Dental Association has fought a proposed bill that would, among other things, require dentists to use mercury containment traps, file an annual amalgam report, and no longer use the fillings for pregnant or under-15-year-old patients. The association claims the legislation is "misguided" and "would detrimentally alter the practice of dentistry."

From the Smokestack

According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), dirty power plants, especially those that burn coal (which contains mercury naturally), are the single largest source of mercury emissions, resulting in an estimated 40 tons a year. Eighty-five percent of all mercury pollution in the U.S. is released either by coal plants or municipal and medical waste incinerators burning mercury-tainted trash. Only the incinerator emissions are regulated.

In 2000, a NAS report urged that mercury releases from power plants be drastically curtailed. Before leaving office, the Clinton Administration announced that it would develop new, stricter standards, to be proposed in 2003 and finalized in 2004. Then-EPA Administrator Carol Browner noted, "The greatest source of mercury emissions is power plants, and they have never been required to control these emissions before now."

Upon taking office, the Bush Administration signaled that it might reverse campaign promises about power plant carbon dioxide and mercury emissions. The move came after heavy industry pressure from the Utility Air Regulatory Group, which represents 50 large power plants.

Environmentalists loudly protested the administration's proposed reversal.

"Countless studies have documented that mercury emissions from U.S. sources, including coal-fired electric utilities, contaminate lakes and streams, the fish within those water bodies, and the people and wildlife who eat the fish," said National Wildlife Federation Senior Scientist Mike Murray.

In April 2001, the Bush Administration again changed course, attempting to quash an Edison Electric Institute lawsuit aimed at the Clinton-era mercury rules. Environmentalists were cautiously optimistic, but Bush's EPA is likely to phase in smaller mercury reductions over a longer period of time.

In model legislation created by the Mercury Policy Project, coal- burning electric utilities would be required to reduce their mercury releases 95 percent by 2008, but the Bush Administration is likely to impose a much weaker standard.

Groundbreaking legislation is instead coming from the states, including Vermont, which passed the Mercury Reduction Act in 1998. That bill requires manufacturers of "mercury-added" products to label them as such when sold to the public. The legislation also banned trash disposal of products containing mercury.

Vermont's bill prompted a lawsuit by fluorescent lamp manufacturers, who claimed an undue financial burden and argued that their First Amendment right not to disclose information had been violated. The lawsuit was later thrown out by two federal appeals courts.

Several other states intend to model legislation on Vermont's law. In 2001, Massachusetts unveiled strict new final standards for power plant emissions, becoming the first state in the nation to regulate mercury releases. The state's power plants will be required to phase in 50 to 75 percent nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emission reductions by 2008.

"From a national perspective, this mandatory reduction of four major pollutants from the state's oldest and dirtiest power plants is a very important precedent," says Cindy Luppi, organizing director of Clean Water Action.

One final irony is that U.S. campaigners may be very successful in removing mercury from domestic commerce, only to see the deadly neurotoxin "recycled" to ready buyers overseas. That was exactly the case last year, when HoltraChem, a mercury-based chlor-alkali plant in Maine, shut down. Some 130 tons of mercury were sold to a broker, which resold it for use in India.

Madhumita Dutta, coordinator of the Indian group Toxics Link, calls this kind of transaction "toxic trade." Vehement protests in both India and the U.S. succeeded in at least temporarily stopping the deal, but there is an estimated 3.5 to five million pounds of mercury on-site at 11 other American chlor-alkali plants.

For environmentalists, the battle against mercury has many fronts. It's not just in thermometers, but also in pharmaceutical products and vaccines (in the form of thimerosal, a preservative), and it is in car parts, too. As soon as legislation is passed to take it out of some consumer products, it pops up in others.

A worrisome new use is in high-tech gadgetry, like global positioning screens and high-density auto headlights. Mercury pours out of smokestacks and arc furnaces and, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, tons of it (stored in foliage and ground litter) goes up in smoke during wildfires. It's an elusive enemy, but one well worth fighting.

Jim Motavalli wrote this for E/The Environmental Magazine, where this article originally appeared. To subscribe to E, call (815) 734-1242. Yearly subscriptions are $20.

Getting Out of Gridlock

Jerry Nichols, a British-born musician, nurse and beer-brewer who lives in suburban Connecticut, has a long morning commute that can double if traffic is bad. His solution is unique to him: Zen-like detachment. "I simply tune it out," he says. "The traffic can be swirling around me, people can be yelling, honking their horns, and I hardly even hear it."

We need coping mechanisms like these, because commuting times are getting longer for many Americans. Tracy, California, a former farming community, is about 60 miles east of San Francisco. Because housing prices in San Francisco are some of the highest in the nation, Tracy has been absorbed into the city's suburban commuter corridor. For the tradeoff of a four-bedroom house for $800 a month, Tracy's commuters travel an average of 58 miles one-way to work.

In other news, the pregnant women of Atlanta are increasingly having their babies in the car because of traffic jams on the way to the hospital. In a city with expansive suburbs and average 34-mile-a-day commutes, many mothers-to-be just can't get to a medical center fast enough.

It can't go on like this, can it? In the new millennium, when the futurists said we'd all be wafting to work in sky cars, we're decidedly earthbound. According to Katie Alvord's book Divorce Your Car, a third of the average city's land is devoted to serving the car, including roads, service stations and the parking lot at Wal-Mart. In 1970, Americans drove a trillion miles per year; it's been more than two trillion a year since the mid-1990s. There are more than 220 million registered automobiles in the U.S. alone, and their numbers will soon overtake the human population.

As cities sprawl farther into distant suburbs, an hour a day in the car has become the national norm. The average family takes 10 car trips a day, mostly for shopping, socializing or recreation. For every 10 travel miles, nine are taken in a car. As Alvord puts it, this isn't love, it's addiction.

Despite the fact that the national interstate highway system is fully built, governments spend $200 million every day constructing, fixing and improving roads in the U.S. What do we get for our money? The National Transportation Board predicts that delays caused by congestion will increase by 5.6 billion hours in the period between 1995 and 2015, wasting an unnecessary 7.3 billion gallons of fuel. Seventy percent of all daily peak-hour travel on interstates now occurs under stop-and-go conditions, and a measurable "rush hour" will soon be a thing of the past.

Highway Robbery

One of the major barriers to the fledgling automobile industry at the turn of the century was the poor state of the roads. One of the first highway lobbying groups was the League of American Wheelmen, which founded "good roads" associations around the country and, in 1891, began lobbying state legislatures.

Many of the early roads and parkways built in America were private and funded by tolls. One such early road was the 45-mile Long Island Motor Parkway, built in 1908 and entirely financed by the racing enthusiast William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. Unfortunately, the toll collection plan fell short of expectations, and he was forced to give up his road in 1938 to three county governments in lieu of back taxes.

The Federal Aid Roads Act of 1916 encouraged coast-to-coast construction of paved roads, usually financed by gasoline taxes (a symbiotic relationship if ever there was one). By 1930, the annual budget for federal road projects was $750 million. After 1939, with a push from President Franklin Roosevelt, limited-access interstates began to make rural areas accessible. Among the first passengers on the superhighways were returning World War II veterans, who were financing their new suburban dream homes with federal loans. They didn't call the movement away from the cities "sprawl" back then, but that's what it was.

There wasn't necessarily anything sinister about all this. Highways were seen by many as just one aspect of the technological progress that would make life easier for all. In his book 1939: The Lost World of the Fair, David Gelernter argues that the General Motors (GM) Futurama exhibit, which took fair-goers through the imagined world of 1960, complete with a 14-lane Express Motorway that would crisscross the nation at 100 miles per hour (with car spacing controlled by "radio beams"), was wildly popular precisely because of the freedom and mobility the interstate highways promised.

Some modern historians, Gelernter says, suggest "that the Futurama exhibit was the launchpad of an evil GM scheme to foist highways on an unwilling public -- and that is absurd." At the same time, however, there were vigorous protests against new highways in many cities, precisely because some people could see beyond the glitter to the roads' ultimate impact on neighborhoods and urban life in general.

If private cars were going to dominate American transportation after World War II, they needed newer and better roads to run on. GM also stands behind the creation of the National Highway Users Conference, otherwise known as the highway lobby, which became the most powerful pressure group in Washington. GM promotional films from the immediate postwar years proclaim interstate highways to be the realization of "the American dream of freedom on wheels."

GM President Charles Wilson, who became Secretary of Defense in 1953, used his position to proclaim that a new road system was vital to U.S. security needs. He was assisted by newly appointed Federal Highway Administrator Francis DuPont, whose family was then the largest GM shareholder. Acting on a bill introduced by Senator Albert Gore, Sr., Congress approved the $25 billion Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. "The greatest public works program in the history of the world," as Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks called it, was on, and with it were planted the seeds of our current gridlock. In 1956, 72 percent of American families owned a car; by 1970, when the national road network comprised 30,000 miles, 82 percent owned cars, and 28 percent had two or more.

Suburbanizing America

As the highways expanded, they carried Americans farther and farther from the city. Today, 50 years after ground was struck for Levittown, the influential planned community on Long Island, the process it heralded has become known as sprawl, a seemingly endless stretch of mini-malls and housing developments, reached almost exclusively by private cars. Since the mid-1950s, for instance, the city of Phoenix, Arizona has grown from 17 to well over 400 square miles, and its traffic tie-ups are nightmarish.

The new suburbs didn't have to be as car-oriented as they turned out to be. For this, we can at least partly blame "master builders" like Robert Moses, who had an elitist attitude towards any form of transportation designed to move the sweating hordes. On Long Island alone, Moses built 11 expressways, but he fought off any attempt to incorporate mass-transit rights of way into them. Biographer Robert Caro writes that in 1952, Moses was informed by the General Electric Urban Traffic Division that it had "costed out" installing rapid transit lines on highway center medians and that "if provision for tracks was made in the original highway design their cost would be one-tenth of providing them later. Moses' reply? �The cost of acquiring additional width and building for rapid transit would be prohibitive and hundreds of families would be dislocated.'" The bridges on Moses' parkways were deliberately made too low to allow passage by chartered buses.

Moses' legacy can be seen in the combined lobbying efforts of such current and former groups as the American Association of Highway Builders of the North Atlantic States, the American Association of State Highway Officials, the American Concrete Paving Association, the American Road Builders Association, and the American Automobile Association (AAA) -- and those are just the groups with "American" in the title. AAA -- which most people think of as an apolitical group that aids stranded travelers and provides good maps -- is also a lobbyist for highways and against clean air legislation.

The highway lobby is very much still with us today. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, for example, represents all 50 state highway departments and has a $14 million annual budget. The Washington, D.C.-based American Highway Users Alliance has a staff of 12 and a $2 million annual budget. Formerly the Highway Users Federation, it was created in 1932 by GM, "on the not unreasonable assumption that healthy GM auto sales required plenty of roads." Funding comes from member organizations like the American Trucking Association (itself a $35 million lobbying group), the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute.

It's not surprising, then, that the Highway Users Alliance sees the solution to America's congestion problem as building more roads, especially interstate interchanges. "Our overstressed road system needs additional capacity at key points," the Alliance opines in a report entitled "Unclogging America's Arteries: Prescriptions for Healthier Highways." If we remove strategic bottlenecks, the report said, "Emissions of smog-causing volatile organic compounds would drop by 44 percent, while carbon monoxide would be reduced by 45 percent." In other words, not only can we build out of congestion, but we can build out of pollution, too.

But if we got into this mess, we can get out of it, too, and there are innovative solutions -- some of them growing out of advanced technology -- for getting Americans off the road and out of relentless gridlock.

Taking Transit

The best way to reduce traffic congestion, obviously, is to get people out of their cars and into alternative forms of transportation. And that is starting to happen. Last year, the Washington Post bannered an encouraging headline: "Mass Transit Popularity Surges in U.S." It seems that the number of people riding trains and buses is the highest it's been in 40 years. Ridership is actually rising faster than automobile use. At least until September 11 forced a drastic and probably temporary decline in use, Washington, D.C.'s Red and Orange lines were running at near capacity, and planners worried that platforms would be too small to accommodate all the new riders.

That is good news, but it masks a grim little secret: all the forms of alternative transit together, including trains, buses, bicycles and that old standby the human leg, account for a tiny share of American transportation use. "Let's not break out the champagne," said William Fay, president of the American Highway Users Alliance, in the Post story. "Highway growth is the real success. By real numbers, far more people are driving cars than taking transit."

Unfortunately, the Highway Users have a point. The transit numbers, although improving, only look good until they're compared to auto use. According to Department of Transportation data compiled in 1995 as part of the "National Personal Transportation Survey," America's 100 million households make one billion trips a day. But of that, 900 million trips were by car, 65 million by foot and bicycle, and just 19 million by transit. (The rest are school bus rides and "other.") Transit is just two percent of the total.

In one passenger mile, rail generates .01 grams of hydrocarbons, a bus .20 and a car 2.09. The figures for carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide are just as dramatic. So how can we get transit use up? The answer may lie in new technologies that are making trains, buses and ferries faster and more competitive with the commuter car. The Acela Express, for example, now travels at 150 miles per hour between Boston and Washington, D.C. As in an airplane, there are first, business and coach classes, with the former offering wide seats, personal audio programming, plug-ins for laptop computers, at-seat dinner service on china plates with microbrewed beer and gourmet coffee, and even hand-delivered hot towels.

Portland, Oregon now offers light rail links to just about everywhere, following a 1997 decision not to build an urban beltway, and to limit highway construction to less than 40 miles over the next 40 years. The result is that from 1990 to 1996, transit ridership grew 20 percent faster in the metropolitan region than did vehicle miles traveled.

In Sydney, Australia, graceful ferryboats come in past the famous Opera House, depositing hundreds of commuters on the dock right downtown. Sydney's ferry services are so extensive that a color-coded route map looks like a guide to London's Underground. Other cities, including Seattle and Vancouver, have made ferries an integral part of their daily commute, and fast catamaran boats have cut travel times.

A growing number of clean electric and electric-hybrid buses ply the public roads from Santa Barbara to Miami Beach, and some travel in dedicated roadways devoid of competing traffic, offering an attractive alternative to many commuters.

The Pricing is Right

Only in America would commuters desperate to gain entrance to the congestion-free High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on freeways actually construct dummies to fake a traveling companion. As Robert D. Putnam documents in his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, we've become a nation of solitary travelers -- a phenomenon fundamentally incompatible with mass transit. "Over the last two or three decades," Putnam writes, "driving alone has become overwhelmingly the dominant mode of travel to work for most Americans�.The fraction of all commuters who carpool has been cut in half since the mid-1970s, and [declined to] only seven or eight percent by 2000. The bottom line: By the end of the 1990s, 80 to 90 percent of all Americans drove to work alone, up from 64 percent as recently as 1980."

One of the best methods of combating this distressing pattern may be through toll pricing. Removing existing tolls, which is often very popular politically, "is usually a mistake, because it encourages more driving," says Janine Bauer of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign in New York. She adds that people often consider mature highways to be "paid for," when actually the public continues to spend inordinate amounts of money on maintenance and improvements. As annoying as they are, tolls serve an important function. Through what's called "congestion pricing" -- varying toll amounts by time of day -- they can help reduce gridlock at peak travel times. And the revenue tolls generate can be diverted to worthy transit alternatives, which is beginning to happen in some states.

Congestion pricing is popular with libertarian critics of light rail transit systems. John Charles, environmental policy director of the Cascade Policy Institute in Oregon, believes that variable toll pricing will ease traffic conditions in ways that adding mass transit capacity cannot. "When you pay the premium, you get a premium result," he says. "There's no need to pass judgment, but if you drive a lot, you should pay for it with a user fee. Our studies show it's only necessary to reduce traffic load a tiny amount to make it free-flowing again."

In a report entitled "Curbing Gridlock: Peak-Period Fees to Relieve Traffic Congestion," the National Academy of Sciences praised congestion pricing as a potentially powerful persuader that could induce commuters to carpool, use mass transit, telecommute, alter their travel times and combine some trips. There have been feasibility studies and pilot programs galore, with federal funding, in such varied locations as Boulder, Houston, Minneapolis and Lee County, Florida. In San Francisco, where traveling in groups of three not only allows HOV travel but entitles drivers to skip the toll on the Bay Bridge, commuters -- mostly strangers to each other -- connect in parking lots at dawn and fill cars up for the ride into the city.

Critics, like California Assemblyman Bill Lockyer, say that congestion pricing on public highways is elitist, penalizing economically disadvantaged drivers. Lockyer is especially incensed that California has allowed private companies to build for-profit toll roads (known as "Lexus Lanes") on public land alongside major congested highways in the state. The new highways, such as 91 Express Lanes in Orange County near Los Angeles, allow drivers to pay for the privilege of getting to work faster.

The Lexus Lanes are controversial, but so are their more popular parent, the HOV lane. HOV lanes are a "road rage" magnet, provoking angry reactions similar to those of motorists who encounter jammed supermarket parking lots with blocks of unused handicap spaces.

Almost any attempt to relieve congestion by expanding highways is doomed by data that suggest 20 to 50 percent of the new road capacity is immediately filled by opportunistic motorists who had previously been kept at home by the awful traffic. Adding a HOV lane to existing interstates, as many cities have done, provides only temporary relief, according to researcher John Holtzclaw. And because HOV lanes allow traffic to move faster, 10 to 25 percent more emissions are created in them.

The Electronic Commute

Another way to reduce congestion and emissions is through the vastly promising field of telecommuting, which is exploding across America and beginning to affect travel patterns. In 1999, 19.6 million Americans took advantage of the new digital workplace, up from just four million in 1990. In 2000, the "Telework America 2000" report concluded that telecommuting was growing at a rate of more than 20 percent a year. In a survey, Modern Office Technology magazine found that 95 percent of its readers did at least some overtime work at home, and 40 percent of all home computers are purchased to meet that need.

Jack Nilles, author of Managing Telework, runs a management consulting company from his home in California. "The annual growth rate of telecommuting is something like 20 percent," he says. "I'd expect to see 40 million people telecommuting by 2030, and after that I give up forecasting." Nilles may be a bit optimistic, but there's no doubt that the effect of even modest increases is great. He projects that Southern California could reduce daily trip generation by five to 10 percent. An Arthur D. Little study concluded that if only 12 percent of the U.S. workforce telecommuted a single day a week, it would result in 1.6 million fewer car accidents annually and 1,100 fewer traffic-related deaths.

According to a federal Department of Transportation projection, vehicle miles saved through telecommuting could triple between 1997 and 2002, from 10 billion to 35 billion. At the upper end, that means saving 1.6 billion gallons of gasoline (worth nearly $3 billion to consumers). Seen in terms of time savings, it means 110 hours for the average telecommuter over the course of a year. Companies are beginning not only to encourage telecommuting, but have come up with novel ways of promoting it. At the insurance company Aetna, where two percent of the workforce stays home, telecommuters are assigned "office buddies" so they can stay in touch with home base. Ten percent of Sun Microsystems' 40,000 employees are permanently "unassigned," and are allowed to work anywhere there's space, including at home. The telecommuting stars are mainly large companies, because corporations with more than 100 employees are feeling pressured by state law to reduce their commuter populations.

An array of state statutes, prompted by the federal Clean Air Act, encourages trip reduction (Arizona, Illinois, New Jersey and Washington) or telecommuting for state employees (Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota and Oregon). In Arizona, for instance, state employees can get 100 percent reimbursement for taking public transit or van pools, and can also get paid back for what's known as "telecommuting connectivity," or setting up a home office.

The whole business of work is changing, with vast implications for the rush hour commute. Remember the old Who song "Goin' Mobile"? That seems to be what is happening to jobs in the American suburbs, reports Neil Strother of ZDNet. He writes that large U.S. firms with more than 1,000 employees host nearly one million remote offices around the world. The average large company supports 96 such offices, a number that will jump to 153 by 2004.

These developments don't quite add up to wholesale abandonment of the central office tower in favor of the "electronic cottages" that futurist Alvin Toffler imagined. But work is definitely changing. And so is shopping. Online shopping takes a huge number of cars off the road, though the environmental benefit of fewer visits to malls may be offset by new mileage for diesel trucks working overtime to make deliveries. The big shopping services also create a new and significant waste stream of cardboard boxes and styrofoam packing peanuts.

If there's one lesson to be learned from America's current state of gridlock, it's that you can't build out of congestion. If that were possible, Los Angeles would be a traveler's paradise today. Don Chen, director of Smart Growth America, points to a University of California study showing that a one percent increase in lane miles will generate a just under one percent increase in traffic congestion within five years. "If people see a free-flowing road, they'll use it," says Chen. "This has been well-documented in dozens of surveys going back 50 years." Despite the best efforts of the highway lobby, we've got to forget about paving over our problems and apply new solutions.

Jim Motavalli is editor of E Magazine and author of the "Breaking Gridlock: Working Toward Transportation That Works," (Sierra Club Books, 2001) from which this piece was excerpted.

Shopping Less and Enjoying Life More

Your neighbors are expanding their house, the driveway across the street is starting to look like a luxury car lot, and your kid�s room is filling up with video game cartridges, $150 sneakers and bean-filled toys. A Time/CNN poll says 80 percent of people think children are more spoiled today than the kids of 10 or 15 years ago. American CEOs now make more than 400 times what their average workers make, and "the top 20 percent of American households earns nearly as much as the bottom 80 percent," write John De Graaf, David Wann and Thomas Naylor in Affluenza.

To obtain such material affluence, the average employed American is now working more than 47 hours per week and far more hours per year than employees in other industrialized nations (including Japan), according to the Families and Work Institute. "Instead of using some of that productivity for leisure," says Betsy Taylor, executive director of the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD), "we shuffle back to work so we can afford more stuff that we don�t really need."

CNAD says America's growing obsession with acquisition is taking a heavy toll on the environment. According to the group, since the U.S. consumes more energy, water, paper, steel and meat per capita than any other country, at least four additional planets would be needed to provide the American lifestyle to every person on Earth. Meanwhile, old-growth forests are being lost at alarming rates, farmlands and wetlands are being engulfed by development, species are disappearing, and the atmosphere and our oceans are being polluted.

In 1996, CNAD grew out of the Merck Foundation and a conference on sustainable economics. Based in Tacoma Park, Maryland, the Center's 15 employees observe a four-day workweek designed to cultivate a healthy, progressive atmosphere. The 4,500-member organization avoids mass mailings, and Taylor is "cautiously optimistic" about her group�s budget of $1.7 million.

Alisa Gravitz, executive director of Co-op America, says CNAD's clear, specific programs are excellent ways for people to establish the links between consumption and the environment. CNAD's Step by Step program promotes letter-writing and consumer action campaigns to pressure businesses and institutions to become more sustainable. Participants of the Center�s new, web-based Turn the Tide program follow "nine little actions" to reduce their personal impact on the environment. CNAD estimates that if 1,000 people pursue the program for one year, 48.5 million gallons of water, 170 trees and 12,250 pounds of sea life will be saved, and four million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions will be prevented. The actions include eliminating lawn and garden pesticides, eating one less beef meal a week, not eating shrimp and installing efficient light bulbs. "Most people want to make a few changes in their lives, and they want to know that their changes matter," says Taylor.

Taylor says one-fifth of America's spending is done by the public sector, and she hopes her organization can serve as an information clearinghouse on responsible procurement. Scott Case, CNAD's director of procurement, says he is helping around 30 state and local governments with technical assistance and support. "Many government personnel want to green up their policies, but they have no idea how to get started. Other government employees are buying hybrid vehicles and pushing for biodegradable materials because they believe in making a difference. We want to help everyone make good choices," says Taylor.

To counter children's growing lust for too many toys, gifts and gadgets, Tracey Fisher is leading the Kids and Commercialism Campaign. A poll conducted by CNAD found that although two-thirds of parents claim their children care about the environment, more than 70 percent of parents say their children don�t think buying too much stuff will degrade the natural world. The Center's campaign presents action plans for parents, including how to protect kids from excessive advertising. Americans are now bombarded by more than 1,500 commercial messages a day, up from 560 a day during the 1960s, according to CNAD. Considering the $3 billion spent each year on ads directed at kids, more than 20 Times the amount spent a decade ago, it is not surprising that nearly half of parents say kids ask for brand names by age 5, writes Time.

CNAD charges that advertising has moved beyond the original purpose of gaining market share to creating a whole desire for more stuff. Ariane Herrera, communications manager of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, takes exception. "That is a long debated, purely philosophical argument," she says. "Companies are just trying to get their products out there any way they can."
Some scholars are critical of the Center's goals and methods. In an article for the Capital Research Center (a nonprofit group that studies philanthropy and charitable organizations), Daniel T. Oliver describes the "extremist" CNAD as "trying to tap into feelings of dissatisfaction that we all feel from Time to Time�. to ban or severely restrict our consumption of nearly everything." Oliver argues that CNAD tries to coerce people into needlessly changing their lifestyles through guilt and self-denial. He says there is no evidence that Americans are less happy or more stressed than ever, and he claims that many of CNAD�s recommendations (such as for organic food) are insensitive to poor people. Oliver writes, "When it comes to Christmas, CNAD thinks like Ebenezer Scrooge and acts like the Grinch."

But Ian Vasquez, director of the libertarian Cato Institute's Project on Global Economic Liberty, and Ray Bruce, president of the Consumer Protection Association of America, say they support CNAD�s efforts to help consumers use their buying power to reflect their own personal values. Taylor and Gravitz say CNAD's programs are designed for people who can afford to do them. They believe decreases in consumption will lead to greater economic equality in the future. Taylor says her group hopes to "shift consumption away from the most destructive industries and toward beautiful, satisfying, sustainable products that create good jobs."

According to Gravitz, the biggest challenge facing CNAD is the difficulty of change for people. "It will take time for people to accept that sustainable economics will give everyone better paying jobs, better satisfaction, more money and more free time," she says.

Brian Howard is managing editor of E Magazine.

The Chemical Threat to Kids

We've all seen it: a mother crouched on the floor, arms outstretched, cooing to her baby as he lopsidedly plops first one hand, then the other, on the carpet, dragging his chubby knees behind him. His short journey complete, he rolls onto his well-padded bottom and proudly explores the inside of his mouth with his fingers in an endearing show of gurgles and drool.

Now look a little closer -- not at the baby, but at the carpet. Clinging to the fibers could be any of the 75,000 synthetic chemicals developed and released into the environment since World War II. Fewer than half have been tested for potential toxicity to human beings, fewer still for children. And that child just put any number of them into his mouth.

This scenario doesn't even include the particulates floating through the atmosphere, narrowing his small airways, or the peaches he was just fed, which contain residues of an organophosphate pesticide. Add in more details -- his mother working in a dry cleaner during her pregnancy, his dad failing to kick that smoking habit -- and a truly alarming picture can emerge.

Stacked Odds

Over time, the nature of childhood illness has evolved from epidemics like scarlet fever, smallpox and measles to chronic and disabling conditions like cancer, asthma, neurological impairment and hormone disorders. Though genetic predisposition certainly plays its part, Kenneth Olden, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, likens the gene code's influence over illness to merely loading the health risk gun. "The environment," he says, "pulls the trigger."

Environmental causes have been implicated in ailments from autism and attention deficit disorder to violent behavior, prompting widespread alarm among parents and activist groups and an unprecedented flood of research from the scientific community. "The more we learn about chemicals," says Dr. Gina Solomon, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, "the more we learn that very, very early in life is the most susceptible period."

Relative to their weight and size, children ingest more food, drink more water and breathe more air than adults. Their behavior only makes matters worse -- children play on the ground, where there is more dust, paint chips and other dangers, and they frequently put their hands in their mouth. They also eat a much less varied diet, exposing them to concentrated pesticide residues. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average one-year-old drinks 21 times more apple juice, and eats two to seven times more grapes, bananas, pears, carrots and broccoli than an adult.

Children's bodies are ill-equipped to handle such a firestorm of exposure. Childhood is a period of critical organ development and fast growth. The brain growth spurt lasts all the way through age two, and once disruption occurs in the nervous system, it cannot be repaired. A child's natural defense mechanisms are not yet fully developed, especially during the first few months, and they are less able to break down certain toxins and excrete them. Molecules of many toxins, such as lead and other metals, are small enough to pass through the placenta to the fetus and can weaken or break down the protective screen of the blood-brain barrier.

This early exposure can cause subtle functional changes, says Solomon, "changes not in the appearance of the brain but in the way the brain works; changes not in the appearance of the internal organs but in the way those organs function."

Children are subject to social vulnerabilities as well, such as environmental injustice, poverty and malnutrition, which they are helpless to avoid or control. But we need not rely on this knowledge alone to spur parents, doctors, corporations and governments to action. The changing face of childhood illness is already clearly documented.


Asthma affects almost five million American children under 18 years of age, and it is the number one cause of school absenteeism in America, outranking even colds and flu. Incidence increased more than 92 percent from 1982 to 1994, according to the American Lung Association. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that asthma-induced deaths nearly doubled during this time.

Children's airways have smaller diameters, so a small amount of pollutants may significantly narrow them, causing serious problems for a child that may be only a mild irritation to adults. Triggers vary widely, from cigarette smoke and molds and mildews to the off-gassing of vinyl materials. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollutants, which in the short run can inflame the respiratory tract and lungs. In the long run, they can diminish lung function and the capacity to exercise, leading to increased rates of lung disease and cancer.

A greater metabolism means children need more oxygen relative to their size and body weight, causing them to breathe more rapidly and inhale more pollutants per pound. Their lungs continue to grow until the age of 20 -- development that can be thwarted by repeated exposure to pollutants.

Common air pollutants, such as emissions from cars, incinerators, chemical plants and refineries, and fine airborne particulates and smog, pose a special problem for urban children. In cities like New York and Los Angeles, asthma has become the leading cause of children's hospital admissions. In 1990 alone, asthma was estimated to cost the nation $6 billion in health care expenditures.


According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), cancer is the chief cause of death by disease in children under 15 years of age. In that group alone, an estimated 8,600 new cases and 1,500 deaths will occur in 2001. Thanks to better treatment, the death rate has dramatically declined (down 62 percent since 1960), but incidence has been climbing more than one percent a year for the past two decades.

Between 1973 and 1995, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) calculates that child brain and nervous system cancers increased 26 percent; acute lymphocytic leukemias grew 13.5 percent. These increases were even greater in children under five, where brain cancer rose 53 percent and leukemia 18 percent. In children so young, unhealthy lifestyles and diets are unlikely instigators; due to the rapidity of increase, so are genetic alterations.

Though improved detection may figure in, environmental causes may account for more than half of all cancers, says the ACS. Ionizing radiation and chemotherapy are the only proven causes of childhood leukemia, but other possible agents include radon, improper diet, solvents, tobacco smoke, alcohol, electromagnetic fields and infection. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified 96 pesticides as potential human carcinogens, and one NCI study found that in children whose parents used store-bought home and garden pesticides, the rate of leukemia was four to seven times greater.

Endocrine Disruption

Hormones promote the normal development of many body functions, including those of the neurological, immune and reproductive systems. But some synthetic chemicals may mimic or block their function.

Pesticides, such as DDT, atrazine, chlordane and lindane, and industrial by-products like dioxin, furans and PCBs, have been identified as endocrine disruptors. These chemicals "biomagnify" in the food web and are "persistent," passing from generation to generation. A mother's lifetime exposure is stored in her body, where it affects all prenatal and early postnatal development. A child's exposure then continues through eating certain foods and breathing chemicals, and through behaviors such as crawling on contaminated surfaces and putting objects in her mouth.

Endocrine disruptors have been linked to testicular and ovarian cancer (which increased 78 and 65 percent, respectively, in U.S. teens between 1973 and 1995), a doubling in the male birth defect hypospadia (a deformed penis) and an increase in undescended and undersized testicles. A New Scientist study found that girls with the highest prenatal exposures to PCBs and dioxin entered puberty 11 months earlier than girls with lower exposures.

Birth Defects

Of the three million babies born in the U.S. each year, 250,000 (seven percent) are born with birth defects either immediately apparent or appearing later in life. This figure has increased between 1970 and 1985 for 18 of the 27 most common birth defects, some by as much as 1,700 percent.

If we take a cue from recent wildlife phenomena, some of these cases could be attributed to environmental pollution, which may genetically damage eggs or sperm or interfere with hormones that control sexual development in the brain. Florida alligators exposed to organochlorine pesticides grew penises one-third their normal size; fish and fish-eating birds in the Great Lakes, where PCBs are persistent, grew abnormal thyroids.

A 1999 Journal of the American Medical Association study found that women occupationally exposed to organic solvents, such as factory workers, lab technicians and graphic designers, have a 13-fold increased chance of giving birth to a child with a major defect, including heart valve dysfunction, soft larynx cartilage, small penises and deafness. It was found that solvent-exposed women also suffered more miscarriages, and their babies had lower birth weights. Major components in lighter fluid, spot removers, aerosol sprays, paints, glues, cleaners and solvents -- like so much else -- can readily pass through the placenta to the fetus.

Impaired Mental Development

Educators and doctors have been slow to recognize that chemicals can also affect learning, says Theo Colburn, co-author of Our Stolen Future. "Some studies suggest that contaminants at levels currently found in the human population could impair mental development enough to cause a five-point loss in measurable IQ," she says. Even such a small drop in IQ could make a big difference in society -- affecting a person's ability to understand sophisticated problems.

Twelve million children under age 18 suffer from learning disabilities, reports the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), and behavioral disorders such as hyperactivity and Attention Deficit Disorder -- other possible signs of low-level chemical exposure -- now affect one out of six U.S. children.

Some of the most insidious and well-documented chemical offenders include lead, mercury, PCBs and dioxin. Though these four are all federally regulated to some extent, 24 billion pounds of developmental and neurological toxins continue to be released in the U.S. each year, according to a recent report co-sponsored by the LDA. Only 1.2 billion pounds of these are reported to the EPA.

Baby Steps

As we continue to gain technical understanding of the routes of exposure, we gain practical understanding of steps that will reduce risk. Even before they are born, you can create for your children a healthy growing environment. Taking folic acid before pregnancy can prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly, which strike fetuses during the first few weeks. All women of childbearing age may also want to consider a simple blood test to ensure that their thyroid gland is functioning properly. "A baby's intelligence depends as much on levels of thyroid hormone reaching the brain during critical periods of development as on inheriting smart genes," says Colburn. In one Pediatric Research study, decreased thyroid hormone in pre-term and low-birth-weight babies in the first weeks was associated with an increased need for special education by age nine.

Reducing the amount of fatty foods eaten prior to pregnancy is also a good bet, as that lessens exposure to persistent chemicals like PCBs and dioxin. Americans now carry dioxin levels in their bodies hundreds of times greater than the "acceptable" cancer risk defined by the EPA, and 95 percent of that results from eating red meat, fish and dairy products.

Fish intake should be monitored in any case. The EPA now warns that 1.6 million women and children are at risk for mercury poisoning, as well as anyone consuming more than 30 pounds of fish per year. In fact, one out of every 10 U.S. women are at risk of having newborns with neurological problems due to mercury exposure in the womb, says a CDC study released earlier this year. Local freshwater advisories are helpful indicators. Pregnant women should avoid altogether certain carnivorous species such as swordfish, shark and tuna, which may hold exceptionally high levels of mercury contamination.

Feed a Cold...

Dr. Howard Mielke, an environmental toxicologist with Xavier University, says "nutritional deficiencies certainly contribute enormously to the problem." A deficiency in calcium, for one, can promote accumulation of lead in the digestive tract, bones, brain and kidneys, which may result in lead poisoning. A study by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey showed that nearly 60 percent of four- to eight-year-olds consume too little calcium. When exposed to lead in the environment, these children "may be faced with anemia, reduced IQ and learning difficulties as well as aggressive, violent and anti-social behavior," reports the study's co-author, Dr. John Bogden.

Even nutritious foods may carry hazards. In 1998, the USDA found pesticide residues in 55 percent of nearly 7,000 fruits and vegetables tested; 29 percent had residues of multiple pesticides. A 1999 Consumer Reports study analyzed government data on 27,000 samples of produce and computed toxicity scores for 27 foods. It found that one in 10 kids who eat Chilean grapes, four in 10 who eat U.S. peaches, and half of those who eat frozen U.S. winter squash will get more than the "safe" dose of a very toxic insecticide.

Edward Groth, director of Technical Policy and Public Service for the Consumers Union, is quick to point out that the report is "not about fearing food. It's about giving people information so they can make smart choices." He says parents should not feed their children any fewer fruits and vegetables, but they should shop wisely. He adds that they should also buy foods known to have lower pesticide levels and, when possible, locally grown, organic produce (which a 1998 Consumer Reports study found had little or no residues). Preparation is important, as well. Adults should wash and peel many foods, like apples, peaches and pears, since some chemicals tend to concentrate near the skin. And parents should diversify children's diets, spreading foods out over time, giving children's immune systems time to catch up with ingestion.

An even more effective approach may be to deliberately teach children about the links between their food and the environment, says Florence Rodale of the Rodale Institute. "Adults have already formed habits that are really hard to break," she says. "Children can be molded. If you place the right ideas in their minds, they will stick forever."

...Starve a Cupboard

Beyond just eating better food, "You can choose to have a healthy, less-toxic, less-allergenic household," writes Lynn Marie Bower in Creating a Healthy Household, a thorough guide published by the Healthy House Institute. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that 85 percent of U.S. households store at least one pesticide, and 47 percent of households with children under age five store at least one within their reach. Ridding cupboards of these chemicals is a good starting point. "All basic pest problems really come down to prevention," says Kagan Owens, program director of Beyond Pesticides. "Eliminate the things they're attracted to," she suggests, such as moisture under sinks and food scraps around counters and floors.

Integrated pest management (IPM) uses less toxic measures to defeat serious invasions and can be extended to the front yard, where children typically roll and play. Of the 34 most commonly used lawn chemicals, 11 cause cancer; 20, nervous system poisoning; nine, birth defects; and 30, skin irritation. Safer alternatives exist, but parents can also take strategic steps like planting native grasses more likely to resist local pests.

Little arms thrown around a family pet can pose a serious health threat, as most pet products contain organophosphate pesticides, which are connected to both short-term hospitalizations and long-term ramifications such as increased risk of Parkinson's disease. According to EPA research, a child can surpass the safe level of exposure by 500 times on the day of a flea treatment. The NRDC suggests combining simple physical measures, like regularly washing and brushing pets and mowing pet-frequented areas, with safer, non-pesticide products or new spot applications.

Returning from school with a headache and sore throat may signify an ordinary childhood bug, but it could also betray a much bigger problem. A 1999 U.S. General Accounting Office report confirms that 2,300 people were treated for pesticide poisonings that occurred at school between 1993 and 1996, although little information is available on either the amount or type of pesticides used in the nation's 110,000 public schools. It's no surprise then that most parents have no idea what their school's pesticide policy is. Opening dialogue with school officials may lead to advance notification of pesticide use, or the restriction of the most potent pesticides in favor of less-toxic IPM techniques.

Don't Stop There

"Though mean lead levels continue to decline, they remain a crushing reality for the highest-risk populations," says Don Ryan of the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning. Drinking water continues to carry lead from old plumbing, and 50 million housing units, including most homes built before 1960, still have lead paint on interior walls -- a major source of exposure. And though lead was phased out of gasoline in the 1980s, it persists in soil, especially in urban areas with high traffic. The CDC recommends that all children living with such risk factors have their blood lead levels tested at 12 months and 24 months.

"It's a disgrace that one-third of preschool children in some neighborhoods are at risk," says Ryan. To limit the hazards, inspect your home for peeling paint, but don't attempt to remove it yourself. Old paint is often better sealed off with a fresh coat. A simple home kit will measure lead levels in dust. You can also regularly wipe down surfaces and floors and clean children's hands and toys. Lead continues to pervade some consumer products, such as mini-blinds, calcium supplements, antacids and hair dyes, so always check product labels.

Other steps to consider:

Replace old thermometers with new, mercury-free varieties. Mercury released from broken thermometers may enter the water supply through drains or volatilize into indoor air. In 1998, more than 18,000 calls were made to poison control centers and emergency rooms because of them.

Even though the Consumer Product Safety Commission asked manufacturers two years ago to voluntarily eliminate phthalates (a chemical added to soften PVC, or vinyl plastic) from toys likely to be chewed by children, many products still contain high levels. Using cloth, wooden or non-PVC toys and teethers will help avoid direct exposure to these "probable human carcinogens," which are also linked to liver and kidney damage.

Studies have shown that clear plastics, including baby bottles, can leach an estrogen mimic into hot liquids. Choose opaque, tinted or glass varieties, and promptly replace worn, scratched bottles.

Have your tap water tested and filtered. American tap water has been found to contain microorganisms, arsenic, radon, lead and pesticides, and children consume two and a half times more water as a percentage of body weight than adults. The journal Epidemiology reported that an increased risk of birth defects is strongly associated with unfiltered and polluted tap water.

"About 85 percent of people with asthma also have allergies," says clinical allergist Dr. Jeff Wald. Controlling your home environment will help, he says. To stave off dust mites and animal dander, vacuum carpets and launder bedding and curtains frequently. To battle molds and mildews, ventilate rooms when showering and cooking, and use a dehumidifier on humid days. For severe asthma, watch for the local ground-level ozone warnings that are often reported in the news.

Secondhand tobacco smoke exposes children to some 4,000 substances, more than 40 of which are known cancer-causers in human beings or animals. In fact, environmental tobacco smoke is responsible for 150,000 to 300,000 lower respiratory infections a year (and 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations) in those younger than 18 months old. It aggravates asthma in as many as one million kids a year and has even been suspected to increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which annually claims as many as 7,000 young lives.

Perchloroethylene (PCE), a solvent used in dry cleaning, is a neurotoxin also linked to liver and bladder cancer. It concentrates threefold in breast milk and can lead to jaundice in infants. Environmentally benign wet cleaning, on the other hand, does not cause fabric to off-gas chemicals or facilitate the release of PCE into groundwater.

When selecting wood for playgrounds and decks, avoid lumber that was pressure-treated with chromated copper arsenic (CCA). Unsafe levels of arsenic can leach out of the wood, onto children's hands and into soil. Though it has been banned or restricted by nine other countries, many major retailers in the U.S. still sell it in playscapes and picnic tables.

Parents should not, however, try to place the entire toxic burden upon their own shoulders. "Not only is it overwhelming, but it's not the right way to solve things in our society," says Daniel Swartz, executive director of the Children's Environmental Health Network. "The government needs to take an active, strong role. We need to set safe standards."

Jennifer Bogo is a former managing editor of E Magazine.

Cars From Coconuts

The northern Brazilian state of Pará, set in the largest contiguous tropical rainforest in the world, is four times the size of Germany but has a tiny fraction of that industrialized country's economic activity. That's why defenders of the rainforest say it's important to build a sustainable economy in Brazil's rural areas, where a quarter of the country's 167 million people live.

It starts with coconuts. There's a well-established market for coconut milk and meat in Pará state, but coconut shells traditionally have been discarded or burned, adding to the pall of smoke already hanging over rainforest land cleared for subsistence agriculture. In a small way, that situation is changing as the unlikely partnership between a tiny Brazilian nonprofit group and one of the world's biggest auto giants, DaimlerChrysler, is getting those coconut shells out of the waste stream.

In the small community of Praia Grande on idyllic Marajó Island off Brazil's northern coast, 10 workers are employed by the modest, low-tech factory that processes the coconut fiber, turning it into headrests and seat padding for Mercedes cars and trucks. There are eight facilities like the one on Marajó Island, and together they keep 900 farm families at work gathering the coconut husks.

The coconut project began in 1991, with the creation of Program Pobreze e Meio Ambiente na Amazônia (POEMA), which uses sustainable agriculture to protect the rainforest from short-term subsistence farming.

The German connection was established early on. Willi Hoss, a former Green Party member of the German Parliament and an unofficial ambassador for the Federal University of Pará, approached the Brazilian subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler (then Daimler-Benz) for financial and technical support. A German-born sociology professor at the university, Dr. Thomas Mitschein, became POEMA's director in 1992, and he launched the coconut project as well as a series of clean water and sustainable agriculture projects around Pará state. "We saw that 11 percent of the Brazilian rainforest had become altered or degraded, and our challenge was to come up with ways to rebuild those altered areas while also creating livelihoods for the people here," says Mitschein. "It was a big challenge. But the development model then being followed was a scenario for destruction."

According to Enrique Vascos, who heads the Praia Grande smallholder association, coconut yields have more than doubled since the farmers began planting a variety of soil-enriching field crops (including limes, bananas and a variety of palms) to supplement what had been a coconut monoculture. In addition, says Vascos, a POEMA-sponsored wind- and solar-operated clean water system has eliminated the parasites that used to plague the children of the community.

The initial coconut operation is decidedly low-tech. The husks are soaked in water to loosen the fibers, then hand-fed into a grinder powered by a small electric motor. The fibers are twisted into ropes and sprayed with natural latex, which increases their elasticity. DaimlerChrysler helped pay for a $3.5 million semi-automated plant in Ananindeua that creates the headrests, sun visors, interior panels and other parts made from the fiber base for Brazilian-made Mercedes cars and trucks. By the end of 2001, the plant will be able to manufacture 30 metric tons of coconut products per month; it's enough work to provide income for more than 5,000 people.

DaimlerChrysler is now simply a customer of POEMATEC, the for-profit arm of POEMA, which is also in negotiations to become a supplier to Honda and Volkswagen. The Brazil operation mirrors a similar program in South Africa, where DaimlerChrysler is working with local farm workers to process sisal leaves, which are combined with recycled cotton to make material for use in rear parcel shelves for Mercedes-Benz C-Class cars.

Ford is also getting involved in sustainable development, though in a completely different way. The company's Rouge Plant, a 15 million-square-foot symbol of the industrial age, was built by Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan in 1917. Now his great-grandson, William Clay Ford, Jr., is overseeing a $2 billion redevelopment of the site as a model of sustainability. It will even have a grass roof.

"This factory roof will have four inches of water running through it," says William McDonough, the environmental architect who is piloting the project for Ford. "The water will flow through living systems, get polished by plants, then flow back into the Rouge River. How many industrial plants can say that they produce oxygen?"

The emerging site includes porous parking areas that absorb water rather than run it off into storm drains. "We want to restore the Rouge River, not just reduce the pollution flowing into it," McDonough says. Where the company's coke ovens once stood, Ford is practicing phytoremediation, or the use of native plantings to heal contaminated soil and groundwater. The plan also includes more use of day lighting and natural ventilation, and the planting of more than 1,500 trees. "Greenscreens," or trellises covered with thick, flowering vines, will help shade the plant, and fuel cells will help power it. Plant operations will also be cleaned up, especially the paint shop, which is the center of toxic emissions at most automobile manufacturing sites.

William Clay Ford, Jr. describes the Rouge restoration as "a multi-tiered, 20-year project." The plan, he says, is to transform the venerable plant into "a very human place to be with incredibly interesting environmental attributes. Over time, it will become a model for closed-loop manufacturing. We hope it becomes the most-studied manufacturing plant in the world, just as it was back in its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s."

Neither Ford nor DaimlerChrysler could be described in 2001 as models of sustainability. These are, after all, companies that produce sport-utility vehicles by the millions and fight against clean car legislation. But if these two projects are any evidence, they're making progress.

Scorched Earth Policy

When environmental leaders talk about the Bush Administration's team -- Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Christine Todd Whitman and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham -- the operative word is "scary."

About Norton, an extremist advocate of private property rights during a long public career, Endangered Species Coalition Executive Director Brock Evans says, "This is the scariest nomination for Secretary of Interior I have witnessed in 20 years. The implications for just about every place, every value, every resource protection that Americans have fought for over two decades are frightening." Mark Helm, a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, calls the new administration a nightmare. By choosing people like Gale Norton, Bush is calling for a war on the environment."

Joan Mulhern, legislative counsel for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, is also aghast at the prospect of four years of Gale Norton at Interior. "Her appointment is very troubling," she says. "And we believe she will take extreme positions across the board against public lands and in favor of private property rights. There will be significant loss of protection."

Although these and many other environmental groups mounted determined campaigns against their nominations (Greenpeace even unfurled an anti-Norton banner at the Interior Department, leading to three arrests), all of Bush's environmental picks sailed through to confirmation. The combination of Norton, Abraham and Whitman in key positions is likely to mean that environmentalists will spend the next four years fighting a rear-guard action against regulatory rollbacks and struggling to gather congressional support against bad policies, including proposed oil drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Blood for Oil

The battle over ANWR drilling will be a key one, as it's obviously a top priority for the oil-friendly Bush Administration and the only environmental issue discussed during the Presidential debates. No less than four top Bush aides have close oil ties, as does the President himself, and they speak of opening up the 1.5-million-acre refuge with near-religious fervor. But environmentalists will not surrender "America's Serengeti" without an intense fight that will recall many similar encounters, such as the confrontation over unhindered logging in the days of Reagan-era Interior Secretary James Watt, and the environmental rollbacks that were part of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America."

"Clearly, destroying one of the most spectacular places on the planet is too high a price to pay for politics as usual," said the Sierra Club in a report last year. But that destruction has long been on the Republican agenda, and never more so than in the Bush Administration. Both Bush and Interior Secretary Norton have used California's electricity crisis as a justification for drilling in Alaska, even though the region's oil could not actually start flowing until 2007 and most electric plants in California are fueled by natural gas. During her confirmation hearings, Norton claimed that ANWR held "the largest energy reserves ever found in the United States," and that it could be extracted in what she called "an environmentally responsible way" by drilling only in "the dead of winter."

But Adam Kolton, Arctic campaign director of the Alaska Wilderness League, says that drilling in any season is extremely damaging to ANWR. "Winter seismic vehicle tracks from exploratory tests done 15 years ago are still visible," he says. "The arctic tundra has still not recovered."

Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski, a Republican who has led the fight for ANWR drilling, waves away such concerns. He says drilling poses no danger to the migratory birds, caribou, wolverines, musk oxen, polar and grizzly bears living in the refuge. But a look 60 miles to the west, to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, proves otherwise. With its pipelines, roads, drilling pads, wells, waste pits and airstrips, the ruined tundra of the oil fields covers 800 square miles.

According to the Alaska Wilderness League, 95 percent of Alaska's Arctic Slope is already open for exploration. Contradicting Norton, the group says that little

recoverable oil lies beneath the refuge's coastal plain. A 1987 report prepared for the drilling-friendly Reagan Administration projected an only one-in-five chance of discovering economically viable oil there. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, at best the Arctic Refuge contains 3.2 billion barrels of oil, which is only six month's supply at current consumption rates.

Melanie Griffin, the Sierra Club's director of land protection programs, suggests increasing investment in renewable energy and conservation technologies as an alternative to oil drilling. "But in this political climate," she says, "there's not a lot of support for that."

And why is that, you may ask? If we were less dependent on foreign oil, wouldn't we be less susceptible to economic damage from price increases? To understand why that argument falls on deaf ears in Congress, just follow the money. Senators voting to remove the Alaska oil ban in 1995 received 5.3 times more money from oil and gas political action committees than did senators who voted against lifting the ban, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

Alaska's Murkowski was the Senate's leading recipient of energy and natural resource money in the 1997 to 1998 election cycle. Big oil and auto companies contributed $33.5 million overall to political candidates during that period. The oil industry alone gave $22 million, more than any other energy or natural resource sector, CRP reports. Of that total, 76 percent went to Republican candidates considered friendly to industry interests. Big oil was particularly generous to Alaskan Congressman Don Young, who was helped to victory with $119,708. Young is an outspoken critic of environmental initiatives.

Bush himself raised a huge percentage of his campaign cash from oil and gas interests, including a record $21.3 million at a single fundraiser hosted by Kenneth Lay, chief executive of Enron, the largest natural gas dealer in the U.S. The industry's allocations followed the pattern of the 1997 to 1998 election cycle, when 76 percent of the $22 million donated by oil interests went to Republican candidates.

Vice President Dick Cheney was plucked directly into the campaign from the helm of the Texas-based oil services giant Halliburton, Inc., which helped rebuild Iraq's petroleum industry after the Persian Gulf War. Cheney, who is likely to have considerable influence in the Bush Administration, is hostile toward energy conservation in general and tax subsidies for clean vehicles in particular. Speaking at a recreational vehicle plant in Washington State during the campaign, Cheney made points with the audience by declaring, "You have a solar panel on your house, you get tax relief. If you drive a solar-powered car, you get tax relief. It's goofy."

Bush himself is clueless on such matters. During a Los Angeles stop in the early days of the 2000 Presidential campaign, Bush listened to the complaints of a man who rode two slow buses to work every day and wanted transit improvements. "My hope is that you will be able to find good enough work, so you'll be able to afford a car," replied a helpful Bush.

The auto industry has a direct pipeline to the Bush Administration in the person of Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card, Jr. From 1993 to 1998, Card was the president of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, "where he oversaw the lobbying against tighter fuel-economy and air pollution regulations for automobiles," as The New York Times described it. From there, it was on to a vice presidency at General Motors.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, a former Chevron board member, has an oil tanker named after her. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, defeated last November as U.S. Senator from Michigan, twice co-sponsored bills calling for drilling in the Arctic Refuge. He consistently opposed raising Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for the auto industry, voted against $62 million for solar and other renewables in the Energy Department budget and, of course, also tried to abolish the Energy Department itself.

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) reported itself "stunned" by Abraham's appointment, since he was the group's number one target for defeat in 2000. In the Senate, Abraham's lifetime LCV environmental voting record was five percent. According to the group, he accepted more campaign contributions from polluting industries and interests than any other congressional candidate, more than $700,000.

Gale Norton: Polluters' Most Valuable Player

Interior Secretary Gale Norton is a former protégé of James Watt, the fierce foe of the environment who held the job under President Ronald Reagan. According to "Gale Ann Norton: An Environmental Profile," a comprehensive report prepared by six major green groups, Norton began her career as a moderate but has moved steadily to the right, embracing extreme libertarian views. Norton has claimed that corporations have a "right to pollute," and embraced the Confederacy's view of state sovereignty. During her career as Colorado's attorney general in the 1990s, she slashed the environmental budget by a third and argued that the Endangered Species Act is unconstitutional. Despite her assurance during the confirmation hearings that she would uphold the law, she showed a marked inability to do so while serving in Colorado. Norton "sat out fights when a corporate power plant broke air pollution laws 19,000 times, a refinery leaked toxins into a creek and a logging mill conducted illegal midnight burns," according to the Denver Post.

Norton was also accused of abandoning her prosecutorial responsibilities in the landmark Summitville case. In 1992, a Southern Colorado gold mine discharged cyanide into the Alamosa River, killing every living thing within a 17-mile stretch, then it promptly declared bankruptcy. The attorney general's office allegedly did nothing while the EPA stepped in and launched a $20 million cleanup. "It's hard for me to understand what the state attorney's office did there," says Mark Hughes, a Denver-based attorney

representing the Sierra Club. During the confirmation hearings, Norton took credit for "millions and millions of dollars" recovered from the mine operator, but this was due to federal prosecutors who pursued criminal charges.

Norton is a major proponent of "takings" laws that have the effect of providing compensation to property owners affected by environmental rulings, and she supported a 1994 Colorado law allowing "self policing" of the state's polluting industries. During her term as associate solicitor in the Reagan-era Interior Department, she drafted an early call for ANWR drilling. Norton is a founder, along with right-wing activist Grover Norquist, of the greenwashing group Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which advocates what it calls "free-market environmentalism." The council's members are mining groups, auto companies, property rights advocates and chemical industries. Republicans for Environmental Protection, a group that actually does advocate for the environment, has called Norton's council "a green scam."

Lisa Wade Raasch, communications director at the League of Conservation Voters, points out that after leaving state employ in 1998, Norton registered as a lobbyist on behalf of NL Industries, a lead paint manufacturer (once known as National Lead Company). NL has been a defendant in 75 lawsuits involving toxic waste sites and 12 involving lead poisoning of children. "She worked to help NL escape liability for its products," Raasch says.

Christine Todd Whitman: Industry's Friend

Many environmental groups pronounced themselves "cautiously optimistic" about former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman's appointment as EPA Secretary, particularly since she's amassed a very public record of support for anti-sprawl and "Smart Growth" initiatives, coupled with $1 billion in state spending on open space protection. "In the scheme of things, we're happy with her nomination," says Brian Keane of the Conservation Law Foundation.

But Jeff Tittel, who's had a chance to study Whitman up close as director of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter, describes her as "a pro-choice Gale Norton." Environmentalists, he says, are more comfortable with Whitman than some of President Bush's other appointments because she is a Northeastern governor and pro-choice on abortion. "People assume that means she's decent on the environment, but her record is actually much worse than people realize," Tittel says. "New Jersey, historically, because of all of our environmental problems, has had regulations that were stronger than those on the federal level. But instead of introducing new laws, Whitman has tried to weaken or eliminate the programs that were already in place. You might expect this in Texas, but New Jersey deserves better."

According to The Nation, during Whitman's two terms as governor, "fines of air and water polluters plummeted 70 percent�Moreover, she decapitated the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff by 738 employees in her first three years in office, cut the remaining staff's work week by five hours, eliminated fines of polluters as a source of DEP revenue and made large cuts in the DEP's budget." In addition, the Office of Environmental Prosecutor, a highly effective post, was abolished.

In 1992, New Jersey Republican Assemblyman Robert Shinn, Jr., at the behest of industry, introduced a bill to remove a raft of chemicals from the state's list of hazardous substances. The legislation failed, but Whitman rewarded Shinn by appointing him head of the DEP, where he proceeded on his own to remove 2,000 of 2,900 from the list. He also excluded from coverage any supplies weighing less than 500 pounds, meaning 55-gallon drums of highly toxic substances would not have to be reported. This is perhaps what Whitman meant when, in her 1996 budget address, she spoke of "moving our DEP away from command-and-control and towards cooperation."

A 1997 survey of New Jersey DEP staff by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) drew some scathing comments: "Governor Whitman has systematically weakened virtually all DEP programs and policies," one worker wrote. "Housing, agriculture and chemical industries now dictate environmental policy and enforcement at NJ DEP." One administrator added, "Governor Whitman caters to industry." Another said, "We often bend over backwards to find creative ways to avoid penalizing people."

Tittel says that Whitman is adept at painting green camouflage on anti-environmental legislation. "Here's a classic Christie thing," he says. "In 1996, she proposed legislation that would change how the state measures discharges, allowing a 500 percent increase in toxins going into our waterways. When the rule came out, she signed it and then took school kids on a canoeing trip, telling them how the law would mean cleaner water for New Jersey. She puts a green face on everything with hikes and photo-ops, but she has no technical understanding of the issues."

Whitman's shaky knowledge of environmental science was underscored when, in a New York Times interview, she confused the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (global warming) with the holes in the Earth's ozone layer caused by the release of chloroflourocarbons (CFCs). Whitman, USA Today editorialized, needs to "fill in that troubling knowledge gap quickly."

If there's any reason for optimism about Whitman's term at EPA, it's in the area of preserving open space. Keith Schneider of the Michigan Land Use Institute says that Whitman "set the standard in the GOP for responding to voter concerns about sprawl." Some New Jerseyans complain, however, that Whitman's anti sprawl spending�$100 million a year for 10 years to preserve a million acres�has come at the expense of new park facilities for the state's disadvantaged. Insensitivity to New Jersey's minority residents is a charge that has dogged Whitman since she was photographed personally patting down a black crime suspect.

The Big Rollback

How will the environment fare under President George W. Bush? John Bianchi, a spokesman for the National Audubon Society, offers wishful thinking when he says, "We would hope that the Bush Administration would embrace the traditional Republican conservationist approach, which is part of a long tradition that started with Teddy Roosevelt." Bianchi also noted that the EPA was created under President Richard Nixon, who also signed the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act into law.

By bringing in James Watt to head the Interior Department, Ronald Reagan brought that tradition to an abrupt end. George Bush Sr., says Bianchi, "was pretty neutral on the environment. He didn't introduce any sweeping legislation, but he didn't spearhead an assault on environmental protection either. And that's in step with the feelings of the American people, 98 percent of whom favor protection for unique areas and preservation of existing laws."

George W. Bush's environmental role model, apparently, is Ronald Reagan, not his own father. From its first day in office, the Bush Administration made it clear that it would seek to undo Clinton-era environmental regulations. In its sights is the blizzard of executive orders and proclamations issued in the final days of Clinton's term that, among many other things, created new national monuments, imposed bans and restrictions on snowmobiles and Jet Skis in national parks and established 60 million acres of roadless areas on national forest land.

When the Bush Administration was only hours old, Chief of Staff Card sent a memo to every agency head seeking to stop or delay publication of Clinton's last-minute rules in the Federal Register. Bush appointees including Norton and Whitman, as well as Bush himself, announced their intention to "review" many of Clinton's directives. They'll undoubtedly have help from Attorney General John Ashcroft, a far-right conservative with a zero rating from the League of Conservation Voters who proclaimed himself a "private environmentalist." His environmentalism "has been very private indeed," says Joan Mulhern of Earthjustice, "so private it's impossible to find evidence of it in his voting record [in the Senate]."

How effective will the Bush Administration's tactics be? According to Leslie Jones, staff attorney at the Wilderness Society, "It's very difficult to make generalizations. The monument designations are Presidential proclamations made under the federal Antiquities Act and therefore very difficult to repeal or rescind. But they will chip away at them. The Forest Service's roadless area plan is already a final rule published in the Federal Register, so changing it requires a whole process of going back through the rule-making with notices and comments all over again." Soon after taking office, Bush reversed himself on a campaign pledge to impose mandatory restrictions on global warming gasses, a decision that would have significantly impacted the coal industry. Bush changed his position after heavy lobbying from the coal and electric power industries. Efforts to undermine Clinton-era environmental policies were also underway, though some of these were technical policy shifts that take place under the media's radar. In just his first few months in office, Bush also repealed rules that required mining companies not to endanger public health or damage the environment, began a rollback of National Forest protections, withdrew standards for arsenic in drinking water and signed a bill overturning the Clinton-era rule requiring workplaces to address the problem of repetitive stress syndrome (which affects more than 1.8 million workers, most of them women).

Few environmentalists doubt that the attack on environmental regulations and policies will be relentless in the Bush years, and that in areas where the law can't be changed, non-enforcement (as in Norton's Colorado and Whitman's New Jersey) will be rife. For the environmental community, this is the naked face of compassionate conservatism.

Jim Motavalli is editor of E. Research assistance by Brian Howard and Roxanne Khamsi.

How Clean is Your Bottled Water?

There's no question about it, bottled water has become a hot commodity. Americans pay $4 billion dollars a year for the privilege of drinking it. Sales of bottled water have grown nine-fold in the past 20 years, and tripled in the last 10, making it the fastest-growing segment of the beverage industry. A third of the people who buy bottled water do so because they trust that it comes from a clean source, according to a 2000 consumer usage survey. But is the fragmented system that regulates bottled water really able to give people the peace of mind they pay for?

While the quality of public water supplies is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), bottled water that crosses state lines is regulated as a food product by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). City water supplies must assess sources of potential contaminants, but federal rules specify no requirements, like setbacks from dumps, industrial facilities or underground storage tanks, for the protection of bottled water sources. What's more, if the bottles are packaged and sold within the same state, as 60 to 70 percent of U.S. bottled waters are, they are subject only to state standards, which vary widely from each other and from federal guidelines.

Disinfection to eliminate chemical and microbiological contaminants has become common practice as a result. Although bottlers are not required to do so by the FDA, disinfection is required by at least five states, including such water-guzzlers as New York, California and Texas, making it an unavoidable step to marketing a national product. But a loophole has recently allowed one bottler to divorce itself from this system of inconsistent state and federal rules. By letting the quality of its water speak for itself, Trinity Springs is raising fundamental questions about the condition of all groundwater.

Water packaged under the Trinity Springs name flows in Paradise, Idaho, from a group of three geothermal hot springs, which rise through a crystal-lined granite batholith from 2.2 miles below the surface. Carbon dating places it at over 16,000 years old, and at its deepest it is heated to a temperature of over 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The absence of tritium, a ubiquitous product of fallout from nuclear testing in the 1940s, indicates its unusual isolation from surface waters and any other potential contaminants such exposed waters may carry.

After extensive contamination testing that exceeded both FDA and EPA standards, and is ongoing, Trinity decided that it wasn't necessary to disinfect its water. High levels of naturally occurring minerals -- silica and fluoride -- have instead allowed the product to find a home as a dietary supplement under the 1997 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. As the first and only spring source to take that approach, Trinity has raised eyebrows in at least eight states. None more so than in Texas, which outright embargoed the brand in July -- first for selling what appeared to be a non-disinfected bottled water within state lines, then for technicalities on the font-size of its mineral supplement label.

Why not just save itself the legal headache and disinfect for national distribution? "When you inject a high quantity of disinfectants, it creates a blank palette, destroying any naturally beneficial bacteria as well," says Mark Johnson, founder of Trinity Springs.

And besides microbes, good or bad, nitrogen, pesticides, solvents and arsenic have also been detected throughout groundwater supplies, and have subsequently found their way into bottles, regardless of disinfection. A third of the 103 bottled water brands tested in a four-year scientific study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) contained such contaminants in at least some samples, at levels that exceed state or industry standards. The results point out the limitations of an end-of-pipe solution to water-quality problems.

Chemicals typically used to disinfect water may react unpredictably with such substances, adding their own potentially dangerous element, as well. Chlorination, which can create byproducts suspected to be carcinogenic, is used primarily on municipal water supplies (from which 25 percent of bottled are actually sourced). Most bottlers use processing methods like reverse osmosis, filtration, ultraviolet light and treatment with ozone gas. Although ozone does create far fewer byproducts than chlorine, it may react to produce bromate, which in EPA studies has been shown to cause cancer in rats.

"Water has been commoditized, and the standards dumbed down to benefit large bottlers," says Johnson. "You can get away with a lot when you disinfect water. If you don't disinfect, you must protect the source and increase environmental awareness so that the source stays protected."

The need to protect our water supply is more important now than ever, with an additional three billion people likely to press its limits over the next 50 years, says the Worldwatch Institute. Groundwater pollution is essentially permanent, because it recycles slowly, remaining in aquifers for an average of 1,400 years. It's also exceedingly expensive -- initial cleanup of contaminated groundwater at some 300,000 sites in the United States could cost up to $1 trillion over the next 30 years, says the National Research Council.

"Obviously, the right thing to do is to have very strong protection of source water so that it's pristine, constantly monitor it and have public disclosure of test results on the label," says Eric Olson, lead author of the 1999 NRDC report. Labels on bottled waters now are misleading, says Olson. The FDA requires the disclosure of only three things: the class of water (such as spring or mineral), the manufacturer and the volume. "Consumers are most worried about paying good money for water that comes from a pristine source," Olson says, "while it may really be pulled from sources like the Akron water system."

It's a consumer-driven industry, says Bill Miller, president of the National Spring Water Association. "There are people who won't protect the source until it becomes necessary to keep from driving consumers away, and others who feel it's the right thing to do. Patronizing the companies that produce a high-quality product," says Miller, "will give them the income and ability to protect that source."

Like a Virgin

"We're a little mosquito on the back hide of this $19 billion elephant," says Bill Sheehan, national coordinator of the GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN), of the nonprofit advocacy group's relationship with Coca-Cola. Ever since the soft drink giant abandoned the use of recycled material in its plastic containers six years ago, GRRN has been steadily gnawing away at Coke's corporate image.

Coke's 1990 promise to use 25 percent post-consumer recycled plastic content in bottles sold in the U.S. was a considerable step in the right direction for the industry leader, which four years later took one giant leap backwards. Although it continues to use recycled plastic in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Sweden, and even refillable bottles in France and Latin America, it reverted to relying entirely on virgin plastic for the U.S. market in 1994, while simultaneously introducing a single-serve 20-ounce bottle which incorporates more plastic still.

GRRN blames backsliding by Coca-Cola for the plummeting rate of recycling plastic PET (polyethylene terephthalate) soda bottles -- from 53 percent in 1994 to 35.6 percent in 1998. Over 25 million of the PET Coke bottles are sold every day, totaling 10 billion bottles. That's 800 million pounds of virgin plastic, land-filled each year -- plastic that could otherwise be incorporated into the manufacture of pillow stuffing, fleece jackets, carpets, auto parts, or more importantly, reformed into plastic Coke bottles, closing the manufacturing loop.

Closing the loop is something that GRRN, founded in 1996 as a North American network of recycling activists, is determined to see happen. "This is more important than just a big bunch of plastic bottles," says Sheehan. "It's a way of raising the issue of the need for corporate accountability for waste, and the need for extended producer responsibility."

Coca-Cola is not alone in its negligent corporate policy. Pepsi made the same promise, and likewise hasn't followed through. And while the American Plastics Council abandoned its goal to recycle 25 percent of rigid containers in 1996, citing cost, it spent $20 million to advertise the benefits of plastic that same year. "There are responsibilities that go along with leadership," reminds Sheehan, "and Coke's the market leader. It's being irresponsible, and if the company wants to do that, it has to be prepared to deal with the consequences."

"Think before you drink Coca-Cola" was the message delivered in full-page ads in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, urging consumers to call a company hotline and mail crushed two-liter bottles back with the message to "Use it again!" Long-distance phone company Working Assets also joined the campaign, printing action alerts on the phone bills of over 300,000 customers; local governments in Florida, Minnesota and California passed resolutions targeting Coke's recycling waste; and socially responsible investors such as The As You Sow Foundation have asked the company to stop its ardent lobbying against bottle bills. (In bottle bill states, 78 percent of beer and soda containers are recovered, as opposed to 38 percent elsewhere.)

GRRN's Coke campaign has most recently added the momentum of a "dirty job boycott" from students at 150 universities, and a 20-foot inflatable Coke bottle that has made appearances across the country at events from the Washington, D.C. Earth Day rally to the Superbowl.

According to GRRN, Coke could produce a 20-ounce bottle made with 25 percent recycled plastic for only about a 10th of a cent more than virgin plastic, using recycling techniques already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Yet in March, the only concession from the company was to up its recycled content to 2.5 percent.

As the battle with Coke continues, GRRN has tackled a few other recycling offenders: Miller Brewing, for instance, which began test-marketing an amber-colored plastic beer bottle with aluminum caps and metalized labels in 1998.

The huge problem this poses for recycling systems burdened by sorting the colored bottles has inspired the support of local governments. The city of Los Angeles passed a resolution in February, requesting that Miller not only resolve the recycling issue before further marketing its bottle, and incorporate 25 percent recycled plastic into the manufacture, but for the city's Bureau of Sanitation to give Miller the bill that taxpayers would likely have to foot for recycling problems.

Along with Friends of the Earth, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and Chicago-based Sustain, the nonprofit is taking on the federal government as well, charging that Congress runs one of the most poorly managed recycling programs in the U.S., and demanding that the nation's leaders at the very least play catch-up with the recycling practices of the rest of the country.

"Congress should be the role model for the nation on recycling; we shouldn't be asking the country to increase their recycling efforts when we do nothing to advance our own," agreed Representative Sam Farr (D-CA) in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, noting that Congressional offices are not required to comply with even the minimum standards for separating trash.

According to the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, three-quarters of the waste collected in House buildings last year -- nearly five million pounds of paper -- was too contaminated with food waste, metals, glass, plastics and medical waste to recycle. House leadership had eliminated recycling requirements in the fiscal year 2000 Legislative Appropriations Bill, costing U.S. citizens the loss of recycling revenue (an estimated $300,000 last year) and the added expense of landfill fees.

Corporate and Congressional offenders alike are still but building blocks to GRRN's larger goal: to eliminate waste at the source, rather than manage its outcome. The organization has been spearheading the North American arm of a growing international movement that promotes Zero Waste, a radical resource efficiency that comes about through reducing consumption and maximizing reuse and recycling.

"The power of GRRN is that it doesn't have to compromise," says Eric Lombardi, executive director of Eco-Cycle, the largest nonprofit recycler in the U.S. "GRRN is a group of people from the trenches, not your ivory tower types, who know you change the world one company, one electoral office, one country at a time."

If the goal of Zero Waste were as aggressively pursued in the U.S. as it is elsewhere (Canberra, Australia has aimed to eliminate waste completely by 2010), it could have big ramifications, not only for land use, but for climate change as well. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that cutting the amount of waste created in the U.S. back to 1990 levels, and increasing our national recycling rate from its current level of 28 percent to 35 percent, would slash greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equal to that produced by the annual electricity consumption of roughly 11 million households, or by taking seven million cars off the road.

Although increasing recycling rates is certainly a priority, GRRN is looking beyond the weight of a few billion containers to a much larger -- and heavier -- issue.

Designer People

Princeton University microbiologist Lee M. Silver can see a day a few centuries from now when there are two species of humans -- the standard-issue "Naturals," and the "Gene-enriched," an elite class whose parents consciously bought for them designer genes, and whose parents before them did the same, and so on for generations. Want Billy to have superior athletic ability? Plunk down the cash. Want Suzy to be exceptionally smart? Just pull out the Visa card at your local fertility clinic, where the elite likely will go to enhance their babies-to-be.

It will start innocently enough: Birth defects that are caused by a single gene, such as cystic fibrosis and Tay-Sachs disease, will be targeted first, and probably with little controversy. Then, as societal fears about messing with Mother Nature subside, Silver and other researchers predict that a genetic solution to preventing diabetes, heart disease and other big killers will be found and offered. So will genetic inoculations against HIV. Eventually, the mind will be targeted for improvement -- preventing alcohol addiction and mental illness, and enhancing visual acuity or intelligence to try to produce the next Vincent Van Gogh or Albert Einstein. Even traits from other animals may be added, such as a dog's sense of smell or an eagle's eyesight.

What parents would see as a simple, if pricey, way to improve their kids would result, after many generations of gene selection, in a profound change by the year 2400 -- humans would be two distinct species, related as humans and chimps are today, and just as unable to interbreed. People now have 46 chromosomes; the gene-enriched would have 48 to accommodate added traits, Silver predicts in his aptly titled book, Remaking Eden.

We may already be on the path to change the very nature of nature. If you think it's a far-off prospect best left to future generations, think again. On June 26, 2000, with much fanfare, scientists with the taxpayer-supported Human Genome Project (working with the private Celera Genomics of Rockville, Maryland) announced that they had completed a working draft of a genetic blueprint for a human being. Many details still need to be filled in before scientists can build a human from scratch.

Sequencing the human genome requires identifying 3.2 billion chemical "letters" located on the 46 coiled strands of DNA found in nearly every human cell. While researchers now know the order in which DNA is arranged on the chromosomes, they haven't identified all those chemical "letters," which contain the instructions for making the proteins that comprise the human body. About half of the genome sequence is in near-finished form or better; a quarter is finished. The 15-year project is to be completed in 2005 at a budgeted cost of $3 billion, though some of that tax money is spent on other genomic research.

While the implications for longevity, health insurance and discrimination of this milestone achievement have grabbed media attention, the ramifications for the environment -- good and bad -- haven't.

An Accelerating Timetable

How soon will all this happen? Silver believes that by around 2010 parents will be able to genetically ensure their babies won't grow up to be fat or alcoholic, and by 2050 arrange to insert an extra gene into single-cell embryos within 24 hours of conception to make babies resistant to AIDS. It is already possible to insert foreign DNA into mice, pigs and sheep. The obstacles to inserting them in humans are mainly technical ones. At this point in human knowledge, it could lead to mutations. Several techniques are under development to try to avoid that, however.

"For the near and midterm future, we're looking at science fiction. You'd have to be terminally reckless to do that type of human engineering on people [with what we know now]," argues law professor Henry T. Greely, co-director of the Program in Genomics, Ethics and Society at the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics.

To change a baby's eye color or hair color within a fertilized human egg "would be a very expensive and dangerous proposition for such trivial purposes," says Dr. Marvin Frazier, who fields human genome questions as director of the Life Sciences Division of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research. "It is also my opinion that this would be wrong," he added, "but that will not stop some people from wanting to try."

As for manipulating intelligence or athletic ability, Frazier says it will take scientists many decades to figure out how to do it. These particular traits don't rely on one gene, but on all genes. They also rely "to a significant degree" on nurture instead of nature. Even when scientists figure it out, "It is likely that to achieve the desired goals would require a lot of experimentation, which translates into many hundred or thousands of mistakes before you get it right." That means, Frazier says, "a lot of malformed babies and miscarriages."

A Pivotal Moment

To University of Washington professor Phil Bereano, among others, now is the time for all of us to talk with friends and colleagues to hash out the ethical and societal implications of this Brave New World. Do we really want to commodify people? Could it be a Pandora's box? Unfortunately, the box may already be open: Many nations have banned genetic engineering on humans, but the United States has not.

"If scientists don't play God, who will?" said supporter James Watson, former head of the Human Genome Project, speaking before the British Parliamentary and Scientific Committee in June. "The key question is not whether human [genetic] manipulation will occur, but how and when it will," says a confident Gregory Stock, director of UCLA's Program on Science, Technology and Society in a report entitled, "The Prospects for Human Germline Engineering."

Meanwhile, a long-anticipated September report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) surprised some observers by failing to call for a ban on making inheritable genetic changes in humans -- that is, genetic changes that would be carried on by progeny. Indeed, while the report says that such research "cannot presently be carried out safely and responsibly on human beings," it also leaves wiggle room. "Human trials of inheritable genetic changes should not be initiated until reliable techniques for gene correction or replacement are developed that meet agreed-upon standards for safety and efficacy," says report co-author Mark Frankel, director of AAAS' Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program.

Noting the public outcry after the cloning of Dolly the sheep -- which raised the possibility of cloned human beings -- the report stresses the importance of public discussion about genetic research before major technical innovations occur. So instead of a ban, the report suggests "rigorous analysis and public dialogue."

But there's no shortage of opposition to human engineering. The San Francisco-based Exploratory Initiative on the New Human Genetic Technologies seeks, among other things, to alert a largely unwitting public to what is going on. "It really is a nightmare vision," says Rich Hayes, who coordinates the campaign from his Public Media Center office. "Once we start genetically re-engineering human beings, where would we stop? We should have the maturity and wisdom to ban the modification of the genes we pass to our children."

Designer Genes

The futuristic notion of choosing a child's genes from a catalog can certainly capture the imagination. Just as parents today enroll their children in the best possible schools and pay for orthodontics, the parents of the future -- perhaps in a few decades -- would be able to choose from an ever-increasing suite of traits: hair color, eye color, bigger muscles and so on.

Maybe they'd like to add a few inches to a child's height. Or improve a kid's chances at longevity by tweaking inherited DNA. Or ensure a resistance to viruses. Neighborhood clinics could, by appointment, insert a block of genes into a newly fertilized egg. As one cell broke into two, then four, and so on, each cell would contain the new traits. And the child would pass on those traits to all subsequent generations. Who could blame parents for going for this?

But to Stuart Newman, professor of cell biology and anatomy at New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York, the effect on human biology could be analogous to transforming wild areas into artificial areas, or wild food into artificial food.

We "might be changing people into products -- genetically engineered products," says Newman, who also is chairman of the Human Genetics Committee for the Council for Responsible Genetics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "That's something that's opened up by the Humane Genome Project."

"We believe that certain activities in the area of genetics and cloning should be prohibited because they violate basic environmental and ethical principles," Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder and Physicians for Social Responsibility Executive Director Robert Musil said in a 1999 joint statement. "The idea of redesigning human beings and animals to suit the primarily commercial goals of a limited number of individuals is fundamentally at odds with the principle of respect for nature."

Proponents and critics alike envision a future in which those who can't afford gene enrichment will be relegated to second-class citizenship. "As far as I'm concerned, this thrill we have about the future will end up being one big elitist ripple," says Beth Burrows, director of the Edmonds Institute, a suburban Seattle nonprofit institute that works on issues related to environment, technology, ethics and law.

The Green Dimension

And what about the environment? Burrows says several important questions arise about genetic tampering: What are we creating? How will it affect the natural world? What will be the effect on evolution for each species involved? How will it change feeding patterns, or food for other animals? Without understanding interactions, she says, "We may do some extremely stupid things. If people are concerned that there was such a severe backlash against genetically modified foods, I think they haven't seen anything compared to the backlash when we are able to alter the human genome in significant ways -- even insignificant ways," says Burrows.

UCLA's Gregory Stock agrees the impact of human genetic modification is profound, but he likes it. "This technology will force us to re-examine even the very notion of what it means to be human," he wrote in a recent report. "For as we become subject to the same process of conscious design that has so dramatically altered the world around us, we will be unable to avoid looking at what distinguishes us from other life, at how our genetics shapes us, at how much we are willing to intervene in life's flow from parent to child."

Ignacio Chapela of University of California at Berkeley is troubled by still other implications the Human Genome Project may bring for the natural world -- including plants engineered specifically to produce human proteins, and pigs produced to have antigens that are more human-like in a quest to help humans. To Chapela, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, the concept, say, of using chimpanzees as surrogate mothers for human embryos is "abhorrent -- degrading for chimpanzees, and for humans, as well. I think what we're talking about is a very deep understanding of what it means to be part of an intricate web of life, and why we have boundaries between species." To Chapela, proponents see the world as a sphere smeared with mix-and-match DNA. "Evolutionarily, it makes sense to have boundaries," he says, "and we're just willy-nilly breaking them down."

A Brave New World

None of these developments will occur in a vacuum; great advancements in robotics are also expected, portending a trend toward the melding of man and machine in a quest for greater human longevity -- to age 110, 130 and beyond. UCLA's Stock dubs this new human/machine "Metaman," a "global superorganism." If it seems like mere musings stolen from a science-fiction film, consider this bit of reality: In March, Berkeley researchers announced that they had invented the first "bionic chip" -- part living tissue, part machine. Eventually, such chips and circuitry could help in the development of body implants for treating genetic diseases such as diabetes.

"It's a key discovery because it's the first step to building complex circuitry that incorporates the living cell," mechanical engineering professor Boris Rubinsky, who created the device with a graduate student, said afterward. "The first electronic diode made it possible to have the computer. Who knows what the first biological diode will make possible?"

UCLA's Stock isn't concerned about the effects of human genetic engineering on nature. "Even if half the world's species were lost, enormous diversity would still remain," he argues in his 1993 book, Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism. "We best serve ourselves, as well as future generations, by focusing on the short-term consequences of our actions rather than our vague notions about the needs of the distant future ... If medical science develops an easy cure for cancer, [nuclear] wastes may not be viewed as a significant health hazard after all. If robots can be employed to safely concentrate and reprocess the radioactive materials, they might even be valuable."

Not so fast, says another architect of the modern world, Bill Joy, the father of Java software and co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Joy posits with some feeling of guilt that "our most powerful 21st-century technologies ... are threatening to make humans an endangered species." In a celebrated article in Wired magazine last year, Joy blamed the possible extinction of humans on a few key causes, including genetic engineering and robotics. Artificial intelligence should match that of humans within 20 or 30 years.

To combat the perceived inevitability of this Brave New World, Marcy Darnovsky, a Sonoma State University instructor who works with the Exploratory Initiative on the New Human Genetic Technologies, calls for three things: First, a global ban on inheritable genetic engineering on humans; second, a global ban on human reproductive cloning; and third, an effective and accountable regulation of other human genetic technologies.

Burrows says we need to be pondering such weighty questions as: Do we really want to merge with machines? "There are tremendous -- awful -- choices to be made," she says. "It's very risky to have these discussions because they're about common values. The subject is difficult, painful and easily avoided. But we have to stop focusing on the science and think of ourselves as part of an ecosystem."

Chapela is also worried about the lack of civic discourse. But the advocates are talking, particularly among themselves. At a Berkeley conference, one of them, Extropy Institute President Max More, stood before the crowd and read an open letter to Mother Nature:

Sorry to disturb you, but we humans -- your offspring -- come to you with some things to say:

You have raised us from simple self-replicating chemicals to trillion-celled mammals;

What you have made us is glorious, yet deeply flawed;

We will no longer tolerate the tyranny of aging and death. Through genetic alterations, cellular manipulations, synthetic organs, and any necessary means, we will endow ourselves with enduring vitality and remove our expiration date."

Other proponents are more sober, and include Nobel laureate scientists. "This is no 'marginal' movement or way of thinking," Chapela says. "The group advocating human re-engineering includes extremely powerful, influential and wealthy people. So don't expect them to roll over easily or soon."

Illegal CFC Smuggling Destroying Ozone Layer

In early August, Bert Ammons of Stuart, Florida pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act when he attempted to smuggle ninety 30-pound cylinders of CFC-12, also known by its trade name, Freon, in false compartments on his 41-foot boat, Sierra. According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials, not only did Ammons plan to distribute the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to auto repair shops around Fort Lauderdale, but his ozone-depleting cargo also had a street value of approximately $68,000. If convicted, Ammons faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

With millions of dollars in evaded taxes and illegal contraband, not to mention multi-agency federal initiatives with names like "Operation Cool Breeze," it's a wonder no one has written a Hollywood thriller about refrigerant and fire-suppressant smugglers. But what illegal CFCs lack in cultural cachet, they make up for in volume and profitability. Between 1994 and 1997, 6,367 tons of CFC-12 and 24 tons of CFC-113 (used as a fire suppressant) were smuggled across the U.S. border. That comes to $43 million in attempted tax evasion alone.

According to an unnamed official in the EPA's Criminal Enforcement Division, illegal CFCs rank close to cocaine as some of the most profitable contraband coming across the U.S. border. The public may not be aware of it, but "black market CFC smuggling is considered a serious problem," says Jack McQuade, an officer with the U.S. Customs Service.

Over the past 10 years, 173 countries including the U.S. have signed the landmark Montreal Protocol of 1987, a global agreement to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals. But the persistent trade in illegal CFCs is only one sign that ozone recovery is far from a sure thing. Recent scientific findings link global warming to ozone depletion, challenging prevailing assumptions that the ozone hole will begin to recover by the year 2050. In October, a major ozone hole opened for the first time over a populated city, Punta Arenas, Chile.

"Policy makers on down say: 'We solved the ozone layer problem. What's next?'" says Kert Davies, science policy director at Ozone Action, a Washington D.C.-based public interest group. "We did the easy thing: We got rid of the CFCs. But when you try to get people to talk about methyl bromide and ozone depletion, about global warming and ozone depletion, it's like pulling teeth."

Declaring Victory?

No one disputes that stratospheric ozone recovery is one of the environmental movement's great success stories. In the 1970s, scientists first discovered that CFCs and other chemicals could damage the Earth's protective ozone layer, which shields life on Earth from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. These concerns were substantiated in the 1980s by the discovery of the "ozone hole," a thinning of the ozone layer over Antarctica. Additional studies showed that ozone depletion and the corresponding increase in UV radiation hitting the Earth's surface, can have serious consequences for human health and the environment.

Incorporating science, technology and economics, the Montreal Protocol laid out timetables for every country to phase out production of CFCs. In the U.S., Congress amended the Clean Air Act to comply with treaty goals. The scientific community was also charged with re-evaluating the treaty and making amendments accordingly. In 1987, for example, the Protocol called only for a partial phase-out of ozone-depleting chemicals. But re-evaluations in 1989 resulted in a total phase-out of CFCs. Additional assessments in the 1990s led to a dramatic acceleration of the phase-out of the new chemicals, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and methyl bromide.

"The ozone depletion issue is a good example of the no-net-harm principle combined with the precautionary principle -- acting on our knowledge when we have the presumption of a problem," says Davies. "We discovered this hole, we thought there was a link to CFCs and we started moving." The time it takes to get the ball rolling on an international treaty is so great, says Davies, that by the time the Protocol was in place, scientists knew even more about ozone depletion and were able to act accordingly.

At the beginning of the 21st century, experts agree that a world without the Montreal Protocol would be a horrendous one indeed. According to the Protocol's latest scientific assessment, the world in 2050, absent the global agreement, would look like this: Ozone depletion would be at least 50 percent at mid latitudes. Surface ultraviolet radiation would double at mid latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere and quadruple at mid latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere. By the year 2060, there would be 19 million more cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 1.5 million more cases of melanoma skin cancer. And then there would be the numerous unquantifiable effects, such as loss of immunity, lower productivity of crops and damage to aquatic ecosystems.

"The kind of global disaster we averted...is indescribable," says John Passacantando, the former executive director of Ozone Action, now head of Greenpeace USA. "Had we not phased out this stuff, there would be so much chlorine in the stratosphere it would be like the scene of a bad movie." But temporarily thwarting apocalypse, experts caution, is no cause for complacency. According to the World Meteorological Organization, in September 1998, the ozone hole over Antarctica was larger and deeper than ever before measured; at 27 million square miles, it covered a surface area larger than North America. The ozone hole over the Arctic also deepened this year, with potentially far more damaging effects on human health.

The continued threat to the ozone layer can be explained in both political and scientific terms. Under the Montreal Protocol, developing countries have delayed timetables for ending production of ozone-depleting chemicals. Although industrialized countries were required to phase out CFCs by 1996 and methyl bromide by 2005, developing countries have until 2010 to phase out CFCs and until 2015 to phase out methyl bromide.

"The consumption of these chemicals in developing countries is still somewhere around 200,000 tons," says Dr. Omar El-Arini, chief officer of the United Nations Multilateral Fund Secretariat in Montreal, which was established in 1990 to help developing countries comply with terms of the Montreal Protocol. The ozone layer will not recover without the participation of developing nations, he says. "There is only one sky and one ozone layer, which cannot be partitioned. "

Psst, Wanna Buy Some Ozone?

Here's where the flourishing trade in illegal refrigerant comes in: CFC production not only continues in developing countries, it is dirt cheap to buy. Sources in the EPA's criminal enforcement division say that in Mexico and China (among other developing nations), CFC-12 can be bought for $1 or $2 a pound and resold in the U.S for $20 or $25 a pound. Why the huge domestic mark-up? It's a simple matter of supply and demand.

With some exceptions for medical use, and use in space shuttle equipment, the United States banned the import of CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals in 1996. However, millions of pieces of equipment that use CFCs are still in service, including most automobiles built before 1994, air conditioners and other refrigeration equipment.

Although it's possible to retrofit much of this equipment to be serviced with ozone-friendly alternatives, costs can run anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Contributing to the problem, the U.S. and other industrialized countries allow the trade and use of recycled CFCs to maintain existing machinery. Because it's almost impossible to distinguish between new and recycled Freon, traders illegally bring CFCs into industrialized countries in the guise of recycled substances or exports to developing countries. A high excise tax on the sale or use of CFCs in the U.S. ($5.35 per pound) also abets the illegal trade.

EPA and Customs Service officers say it's impossible to estimate the quantity of illegal CFCs crossing the border. Nonetheless, the scope of the black market is startling. From Russia to Australia, federal officials paint a picture of worldwide CFC smuggling operations that run the gamut from small-time entrepreneurs to sophisticated money laundering conspiracies.

Since the launch of a nationwide CFC enforcement initiative in 1995, which involves the United States Customs Service, the EPA, the FBI and the IRS, over 100 individuals have been convicted for violation of customs law and the federal Clean Air Act. Defendants included Richard Schmolke, who was convicted last year for a scheme to illegally import 75,000 pounds of CFC-12 from Venezuela into Texas. Agents said that Schmolke was part of one of the largest Freon smuggling rings they had ever encountered.

Federal officials anticipate an increase in smuggling activity as the supply of legal CFCs is depleted by the end of this year, said Jack McQuade of the U.S. Customs Service. As of last July, a total of 5,438 pounds of CFC-12 had been seized along the southern border and 2,700 pounds of CFC-12 had been taken in the south Florida area, he says.

The reports sound like a parody of film noir. This past summer, the U.S. Customs Service regularly intercepted "frio banditos" coming across the Rio Grande, all with cylinders of CFCs strapped to their backs. Geographically, this is the frontline for new smuggling rings. "There are indications that consolidation of individually smuggled CFCs is now occurring along the U.S./Mexican border," says McQuade.

Until older cars get off the road, and until developing countries stop producing CFCs, say EPA officials, CFC smuggling will continue. A related problem, according to El-Arini, is that industrialized countries are dumping CFC-containing products and equipment on developing nations. This will further complicate efforts by developing countries to comply with the Montreal Protocol, he says.

Despite widespread "cheating" and smuggling, the global effort to restore the ozone layer is a remarkable achievement, especially when viewed from an international political perspective. The Multilateral Fund, for example, helped the majority of developing countries freeze production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances at 1999 levels -- the first Protocol obligation for these countries. Since 1991, the Fund has disbursed more than $1 billion to phase out the consumption of 142,000 tons of ozone-depleting chemicals in over 110 developing countries.

"This is the first real-life endeavor of mankind to join hands to solve environmental damage that threatens our common habitat, the Earth," says El-Arini. "It proves that once the political commitment is there, national borders can be crossed to overcome a problem of a global dimension."

Trouble at Home

Back at home, those familiar with the political scene aren't quite so sanguine. This year, the U.S. is headed for a showdown over methyl bromide, a toxic ozone-depleting chemical used in this country primarily by California strawberry and Florida tomato growers. Introduced last spring by California Congressman Richard Pombo, the un-ironically titled Methyl Bromide Fairness Act would push back the U.S. phase-out date to 2015 -- the year developing countries are required to stop production and consumption of the chemical.

Due to its acute toxicity, methyl bromide is already banned in several countries, including the Netherlands and Canada. For years, environmentalists and health officials in the U.S. (which uses 40 percent of the world's methyl bromide) have called for stricter regulation of the pesticide, especially in agricultural areas such as California's Ventura County, where children and farm workers are at risk. Since 1982, nearly 500 poisonings linked to methyl bromide have occurred in California, 19 of them fatal.

The best account of methyl bromide's tarnished history in American politics can be found in a report published by the Transnational Resource and Action Center (TRAC) and the Political Ecology Group (PEG) in 1997. Titled "Bromide Barons: Methyl Bromide, Corporate Power and Environmental Justice," the report meticulously documents how the Big Three methyl bromide corporations, Albemarle, Great Lakes Chemical and Dead Sea Bromine, as well as California-based TriCal, the largest applicator of methyl bromide in the state, have systematically worked to roll back environmental regulations that threaten profit margins.

"Through various industry groups," the report states, "including the Methyl Bromide Global Coalition and the Methyl Bromide Working Group, the bromide barons have hindered the development of alternatives to methyl bromide, cast doubt on the scientific consensus that methyl bromide contributes to ozone depletion, and influenced the political process through lobbying."

In 1998, industry-backed congressional representatives tried -- and failed -- to pass a bill that would push back the phase-out date of methyl bromide. With an environmental rider to the 1999 budget, they succeeded: the date was bumped four years to 2005. Now it's round three. At a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing last July on the Methyl Bromide Fairness Act (which now has more than 20 sponsors), efforts to undermine the methyl bromide ban were relentless.

"While methyl bromide has been placed in the position of public enemy number one by the radical environmental community, we have lost sight of the fact that this may truly be a silver bullet compound," excoriated Jim Culbertson, executive manager of the California Cherry Export Association. "The sky is not falling and agricultural methyl bromide is not the cause of the ozone hole."

Claims that methyl bromide has a negligible effect on ozone depletion are simply not true, counters Azadeh Tabazadeh, an atmospheric chemist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. "In fact, the bromine in methyl bromide is a much better catalyst for ozone destruction than chlorine," she says. "And just because we've reduced the amount of chlorine in the atmosphere doesn't mean that the level of bromine is also going down. That's why compounds like methyl bromide need to be regulated."

The government and scientific community agree. The EPA identifies methyl bromide as a Class I ozone-depleting substance that will be phased out under the Clean Air Act. A 1994 paper, co-authored by several federal agencies and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), warns that with the phase-out of CFCs underway, the elimination of methyl bromide emissions "from agricultural, structural, and industrial activities" is the single most important step that the world's governments can take to reduce future levels of ozone depletion.

Case studies listed by the EPA demonstrate that viable chemical and organic substitutes for methyl bromide do exist. "Farmers are reluctant to change because their crop production systems have been developed around methyl bromide, " says Bill Thomas of the EPA's Stratospheric Protection Division. "But a number of good alternatives to methyl bromide are now available, which should allow most growers to continue to produce their crops in a way they're used to."

Feeding the Loop

As U.S. special interests backpedal on methyl bromide, recent discoveries about ozone depletion in the Northern Hemisphere are forcing scientists to revise earlier claims that the ozone layer will begin to recover by 2050. Although satellites have detected an ozone "cavity" over the Arctic for several years, the phenomenon is growing worse. From November 1999 through March 2000, seasonal ozone concentrations in some parts of the Arctic declined as much as 60 percent.

From a human health perspective, Arctic ozone thinning is more worrisome than comparable reductions over Antarctica. This is because ozone-depleted air from the Arctic drifts south each spring toward highly populated areas in North America, Europe and Russia. Last year, a European Space Agency's satellite revealed that ozone levels in Great Britain, Belgium, Netherlands and Scandinavia were nearly as low as those normally found in the Antarctic.

There's another reason why the ozone hole over the Arctic is attracting attention. Scientists have known for some time that ozone lows are often associated with extremely low temperatures in the stratosphere and the presence of polar stratospheric clouds, which provide the template for the chemical reactions that destroy ozone. Polar clouds are also a common presence in the Antarctic, where temperatures are colder than the Arctic.

Here's the key finding: Over the past couple of decades, the Arctic has become more like the Antarctic; in other words, it's getting a lot colder. And as recent studies published in the journal Science suggest, global warming may be the culprit.

"It's ironic because people have always been confused about ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect -- the general public always thought they were intertwined," says Davies. "And now it turns out they are."

The feedback loop between global warming and ozone depletion works like this: The warming of the lower atmosphere known as the greenhouse effect traps warm air at the surface. This in turn leads to cooling in the upper atmosphere, which creates the conditions for ozone depletion to take place. CFCs, which deplete ozone, are also a culprit in global warming.

Scientists used to believe that as chlorine levels declined in the upper atmosphere, the ozone layer would start to recover, says Tabazadeh, who co-authored a recent study on the role polar clouds assume in ozone depletion. "That would be true only if the climate was persistently the same," she says. "But if the climate is getting colder due to surface warming, the upper atmosphere is primed for massive destruction of ozone. Things are going to get worse before they get better."

The discovery highlights yet another set of economic, environmental and political problems -- namely, what to do about hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs were originally introduced as an ozone-friendly alternative to CFCs; however, they are now recognized as a powerful greenhouse gas, with as much as 4,000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (CO2).

So far, the HFC issue has underscored tensions between groups concerned about global warming and groups working toward ozone recovery. For example, this year Coca-Cola announced plans to phase out the use of HFCs in its cold-drink equipment. The move was applauded by environmental groups like Greenpeace but criticized by industry groups such as the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, which said it would threaten the ozone layer as well as the economic competitiveness of companies that have invested millions in HFC technology.

The fight to protect the ozone layer has become a model for global environmental protection. But as the continuing battle over methyl bromide, the illegal trade in CFCs and now the controversy over HFCs suggest, environmental memory is not only short term -- it can also be short-circuited. Whether new scientific discoveries result in more holistic public policies remains to be seen.

"The atmosphere has the potential to be the big wake-up call on the environment," says Davies. "Because the more we look, the more we see that all these issues are connected. The atmosphere is the ultimate global commons."

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